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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Three New (and Exciting) Interactive Health Mapping Tools

Maps aren’t just for road trips and treasure hunts anymore. As CHI’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, I spend a lot of time thinking about interesting ways to layer health data onto maps to reveal relationships between places, populations and health problems. I’ve recently come across three different interactive mapping tools that allow users to visualize health data in their communities: a food desert locator from the USDA, a map of HIV prevalence from Emory University, and a free iPad app from General Electric that is chock-full of health data.

The first map, developed by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, shows the location of U.S. food deserts, defined as low-income census tracts where at least one-third of residents have a hard time finding healthy, affordable food. The USDA estimates that 13.5 million Americans live in a food desert, the majority of which are in urban areas. While many of Colorado’s food deserts are located in the eastern and southern portions of the state, it’s not surprising that tens of thousands of Denver residents live in food deserts, too. Find the food deserts near your community:

Food Desert Locator
Food Desert Locator

The second tool, AIDSVu, was released by Emory University on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It enables users to view state- and county-level HIV prevalence data, and even look at rates by age, race/ethnicity or gender.

Overall, Colorado’s HIV prevalence rate is lower than most other states, with Denver County and Fremont County (home of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility and a number of other prisons)  having the highest rates. Find the HIV prevalence rates in your county:

The third tool is unfortunately only available to those with iPads (or those with generous friends who own iPads). “Stats of the Union” is a free app created for General Electric by Fathom, a data visualization firm.

[vimeo w=400&h=300]

Stats of the Union from Fred Fathom on Vimeo.

Inside the application you can view county-level data for 70+ indicators such as obesity, poverty, life expectancy and unemployment.

What’s most intriguing about this app isn’t its pretty pictures—though they are incredible!—but rather the designer’s intent to create “a tool to look at health stories in America.” As one blogger put it, “Stats of the Union isn’t data visualization . . . it’s an invitation to imagine stories about real places about real people. That’s how you create engagement out of mere information . . . .”

What are your favorite health data mapping tools?