Susan Zieff

Susan Zieff

Phone: (415) 338-6574
Location: Gym 138

My research focuses on social justice and equity issues associated with physical activity access, opportunity and level of engagement. I have several lines of ongoing research as well as areas of scholarship that are in beginning stages. I have conducted research at the local, national and international levels, and have ongoing collaboration with numerous partners. My research has largely been at the population-level (i.e. policy and environmental change) in alignment with current thinking recommended by federal agencies (e.g. CDC) and leadership organizations in the field (e.g. Active Living Research). New areas of research that are in different stages of planning will address specific health disparities in physical activity behavior among selected populations who engage in below average levels of health-benefiting physical activity. These populations include Latina girls and LGBT youth.


  • B.S. Boston University: Human Movement and Health Education
  • M.S. University of California at Berkeley: Physical Education
  • Ph.D. University of California at Berkeley: Human Biodynamics

Research Interests

Community-based promotion of health-benefiting physical activity; evaluation and development of polices, programs and practices that support physical activity across the lifespan in local, national and international contexts. I am currently involved in the following projects:

Current Project: (Grant proposal submitted) Latina Adolescent Girls have one of the lowest rates of physical activity among all populations; significant declines begin in the 6th grade move from elementary to middle school.

The aim of this project is two-fold: a) to increase understanding of the specific cultural and gender factors that contribute to Latina girls’ physical activity and b) to develop a culturally appropriate intervention to address this critical situation. I have established a partnership with the YMCA of San Francisco, the administrative office for 13 Bay Area YMCAs, to collaboratively recruit project participants and implement the newly developed programming. This project is in the planning phase and we plan to conduct focus groups and give a survey to Latina girls entering 6th grade enrolled in YMCA afterschool programs and their female caregivers (dyad method). This project is also being conducted with technical assistance from Alicia Fernandez, M.D., Professor of Clinical Medicine, UCSF, and a member of the Clinical and Translational Research Mentor program.

Current Project (Grant proposal submitted): LGBT Youth Perceptions of Body Image and Physical Activity

In 2015, the CDC included questions about sexual identity in its annual longitudinal health survey, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). The outcomes demonstrated that LGBT youth (approximately 11.2% of all youth) experience across-the-board health disparities in risk behavior. LGBT youth also reported below average prevalence of physical activity (29.5% compared with 51.6% for heterosexual students), a leading risk factor for chronic disease and other health issues. In collaboration with Jae Sevelius, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, I will collect formative interview data on LGBT youth ages 13-18 to determine perceptions of body image and attitudes toward physical activity. Working in conjunction with LGBT youth organizations, the outcomes from this project will be used to develop guidelines and programming to support healthy lifestyles among this population. This project is currently in the planning phase.

Ongoing Projects: Open Streets Initiatives (Funding received from Livable Cities; Stanford Prevention Research Center; and Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, SFSU)

a.)    In collaboration with a team of international (Universidad de la Frontera, Chile and Universidad de los Andes, Colombia) and national (Stanford University) researchers, we recently collected data using a photo/voice tablet application (Discovery Tool) to understand changes to participant perception of the built environment in the context of open streets initiatives. This project is in the final phases of data analyzed and a manuscript is being prepared.

b.)   In the next phase of the Discovery Tool project, we will return to the communities of interest (i.e. low-income, low-resourced) with an educational module designed to support the development of advocacy efforts among local residents. Facilitating “citizen scientists” has been shown to be an effective way to support the development and implementation of health-benefiting policies and environmental change (see King et al, 2016 on CV).

c.)    My work with Sunday Streets SF has been a model of evaluation for open streets initiatives at the international level. My team’s next project will build on our work with economic impact assessment as we explore the potential of open streets for community-building and development. This work will also continue a successful relationship with students who will support the study through data collection, entry and analysis, and in leadership positions organizing the research assistants.

Future Project: Bioethics Frameworks of Physical Activity Measurement and Evaluation

I have been awarded a fellowship at the Brocher Foundation, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, for October, 2017. The project continues earlier work I conducted on the bioethics frameworks of “medicalization” and social justice. The project considers the ethical issues emerging from the use of biomedical technologies used to promote, monitor and evaluate health-benefiting physical activity. The general objective of this project is to examine the processes of utilization of health-benefiting physical activity promoting technologies among vulnerable populations. Specific aims: 1) to describe the situation of the biomedicalization of the body in health-benefiting physical activity technology practices and 2) to raise key questions using frameworks of environmental justice and critical production of knowledge about the ways that identities of vulnerable populations are constructed and transformed through their participation in biomedical technologies.

Selected Publications


  • Kin 457: Culture, Gender & Movement
  • Kin 489: History and Philosophy of Physical Activity
  • Kin 766: Socio-cultural Studies of Physical Activity
  • Kin 795: Seminar in Kinesiology