The past two decades have seen dramatic increases in the use of geospatial tools and methods in public health sciences research. From tracking disease outbreaks, to modeling the impacts of environmental risks on substance abuse, to understanding how neighborhood environmental characteristics affect obesity and physical activity, geospatial methods are transforming research related to environmental and contextual effects on health. Interest in these methods cuts across the social and biomedical sciences, and across the diverse institutes and centers of NIH. Yet despite their tentative adoption, most health-science applications do not take full advantage of the latest developments in spatial and spatiotemporal data analysis and modeling, or the new types of geospatial data and computing resources that are becoming available. These advances are linked to three interrelated trends: 1) the explosion of real-time, spatiotemporal data from GPS-enabled devices, distributed environmental sensor systems, satellite remote sensing, and (potentially) from geographically tagged electronic medical records;2) development of tools and methods for analyzing spatiotemporal data, including methods of geovisualization, spatiotemporal modeling, epidemiology, and modeling of human mobility at scales ranging from the everyday to the life course;and 3) advances in computing technologies, service-oriented architectures, and cyberinfrastructure that are fueling the growth of distributed and collaborative services known as the geospatial Web or cyberGIS. These developments, in what is collectively called geographic information science (GIScience), hold great promise for research on health and social environments. Achieving this potential requires an interdisciplinary approach that involves interactions among GIScience researchers, social and behavioral scientists, and biomedical researchers. A series of three interdisciplinary conferences are proposed. Experts in GIScience, social sciences, public health sciences, and biomedical sciences whose research focuses on health and social and natural environments will be assembled.
The specific aims are to: 1) disseminate information on GIScience developments and on health research needs related to GIS;2) foster interdisciplinary collaboration and common terminology;3) identify key challenges, including such issues as maintaining confidentiality of location-specific data, analyzing data of varying quality, and integrating spatiotemporal data with behavioral and genetic information;and 4) develop a research agenda that will address these issues and enhance the integration and sophistication of GIScience-based approaches in the health sciences.

Public Health Relevance

Recent advances in geographic information science (GIScience) hold great promise for research on health and social environments. Specifically, developments in spatial and spatiotemporal research, data analysis and modeling, together with new types of geospatial data and computing resources, represent a new and exciting frontier. An interdisciplinary approach to health sciences research that includes GIScience will foster the use of more dynamic approaches and complex data sets and lead to a more sophisticated and integrated understanding of the interactions between people (including their mobility over time), their health, and the environment.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Conference (R13)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZCA1-SRLB-B (M1))
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Berrigan, David
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Association of American Geographers
United States
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Richardson, Douglas B; Volkow, Nora D; Kwan, Mei-Po et al. (2013) Medicine. Spatial turn in health research. Science 339:1390-2
Richardson, Douglas B (2013) Real-time Space-time Integration in GIScience and Geography. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 103:1062-1071