Duke University Builds GIS Model to Integrate Data and Analyzes Local Health Issues

Using geographic information systems approaches to identify asthma risk factors in three North Carolina counties

From 2002 to 2007, researchers at the Children's Environmental Health Initiative at Duke University in Durham, N.C., built a model based on geographic information systems (GIS) to integrate highly localized geographic data with other health, demographic and environmental data to analyze local health issues in six North Carolina counties.

Although the researchers used children's asthma as a representative illness, they designed the model to apply to other health conditions.

Key Results:

  • The researchers built a GIS-based model with data from the counties of Chatham, Durham, New Hanover, Orange, Wayne and Wilson. The model integrated a base layer map of tax and census information with three overlays of information on health (including asthma statistics), environmental exposures (including samples of dust and other allergy-inducing substances from more than 500 households) and vital statistics on children.
  • Several local governments and health departments incorporated GIS-based modeling into daily activities such as environmental management, outreach and education campaigns, as well as program planning and evaluation.

Key Findings:

  • Analyses of environmental samples indicated that the majority of homes had airborne and dust-borne allergens.
  • Through GIS-based modeling, the researchers determined that in the mostly rural areas surveyed, low-income neighborhoods or those with high numbers of minority residents did not suffer disproportionate exposure to airborne and dust-borne allergens.