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Using GIS Mapping to Target Public Health Interventions: Examining Birth Outcomes Across GIS Techniques

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With advances in spatial analysis techniques, there has been a trend in recent public health research to assess the contribution of area-level factors to health disparity for a number of outcomes, including births. Although it is widely accepted that health disparity is best addressed by targeted, evidence-based and data-driven community efforts, and despite national and local focus in the U.S. to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal-child health, there is little work exploring how choice of scale and specific GIS visualization technique may alter the perception of analyses focused on health disparity in birth outcomes. Retrospective cohort study. Spatial analysis of individual-level vital records data for low birthweight and preterm births born to black women from 2007 to 2012 in one mid-sized Midwest city using different geographic information systems (GIS) visualization techniques [geocoded address records were aggregated at two levels of scale and additionally mapped using kernel density estimation (KDE)]. GIS analyses in this study support our hypothesis that choice of geographic scale (neighborhood or census tract) for aggregated birth data can alter programmatic decision-making. Results indicate that the relative merits of aggregated visualization or the use of KDE technique depend on the scale of intervention. The KDE map proved useful in targeting specific areas for interventions in cities with smaller populations and larger census tracts, where they allow for greater specificity in identifying intervention areas. When public health programmers seek to inform intervention placement in highly populated areas, however, aggregated data at the census tract level may be preferred, since it requires lower investments in terms of time and cartographic skill and, unlike neighborhood, census tracts are standardized in that they become smaller as the population density of an area increases.

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Correspondence to E. L. MacQuillan.

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MacQuillan, E.L., Curtis, A.B., Baker, K.M. et al. Using GIS Mapping to Target Public Health Interventions: Examining Birth Outcomes Across GIS Techniques. J Community Health 42, 633–638 (2017).

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