A special themed issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine focuses on six GIS-based studies that make the connection between geographic location and human health. The issue takes a global view, with studies from the United Kingdom and elsewhere that take a strong look at behaviors, neighborhood environments, and health.
A study titled “Spatial Classification of Youth Physical Activity Patterns” shows, for example, that while rural youth get the largest proportion of their physical activity while at school, urban and suburban youth are most active when commuting. Not only does this finding suggest that the walk to school might be just as important to some children’s health as is the physical education they receive as part of the school curriculum, it is also important given that adolescent health behaviors are predictive of behaviors in adults.
Brian E. Saelens and Lawrence D. Frank authored two papers that took a look at the neighborhood impact on kids, evaluating child and parent weight status across neighborhoods in Seattle and San Diego. Their findings correlate both physical activity and the availability of healthy food options, making a strong GIS-backed relation to childhood obesity.
The whole special issue promotes the use of GIS analysis and suggests that GIS-based modeling of walkability and access to healthy food options are an important input to combat human health. Although GIS application is relatively new in the health field, it is being promoted as a means to enhance understanding of the complex and dynamic connections between people, their health and their physical and social environments.