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Posted April 4, 2012


Western University Professor Recognized for Creating Children's Health Atlas

Esri-Based Atlas Maps Opportunities for Children's Healthy Living in Southwestern Ontario

LONDON – Esri Canada presented an Award of Excellence to Dr. Jason Gilliland, a professor at Western University and a scientist for the Children's Health Research Institute, for his outstanding application of geographic information system (GIS) technology to help improve children's health in Southwestern Ontario. Dr. Gilliland led a multidisciplinary team in a research study of environmental factors affecting children's health in the region. The results have been compiled into “Opportunities for Healthy Living in Southwestern Ontario: A Focus on Children's Environments, First Edition,” a 400+-page atlas that will be used by local planners and public health agencies to improve children's health and well-being. The project was commissioned by the Children's Health Research Institute and funded by the Green Shield Canada Foundation and the Children's Health Foundation.

“Our environment and the way we build our communities have a significant impact on our health,” says Alex Miller, president, Esri Canada. “Dr. Gilliland's research project is an excellent example of geomedicine, which delivers a new type of medical intelligence by combining environmental and health information. The atlas his team produced will help advance children's health in Southwestern Ontario by providing better guidance on the development and delivery of quality health services.”

“In managing population health, where people live matters,” says Dr. Gilliland. “Public health professionals are beginning to understand the importance of geography and geographic analysis to inform decision-making, and this type of analysis can only be done with GIS. It allows us to easily integrate and visualize vast amounts of data to determine the link between children's health issues, such as asthma and obesity, and their environment, resources and accessible services. The atlas provides a preliminary body of research that can be used for future studies of numerous health issues.”

Dr. Gilliland and his team used Esri's ArcGIS 10 technology to map the distribution of child populations and environmental features in the region. They combined hundreds of datasets including socio-demographics and environmental data associated with children's health and well-being. The geographic data on People, Places and Patterns represented in the atlas is also being integrated in the lab with millions of records on children's health and health-related behaviours.

Several ArcGIS extensions were used to conduct various types of analysis and study spatial trends and patterns over a large territory. The system allowed them to raise and test hypotheses on the fly and zoom in and out of a particular area on the map, leading to more advanced analyses. They studied numerous factors affecting children's health including access to parks & recreational facilities, healthy eating places and schools, and the walkability of neighbourhoods. They were also able to identify “food deserts”, disadvantaged areas in the region with limited access to food or services.

The atlas is being used to develop several scientific journal articles. It is also serving as the foundation for new projects funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The maps will be distributed to local health practitioners, researchers and municipalities in Southwestern Ontario via a new Web site being developed. The atlas will be frequently updated as new data and research becomes available. Dr. Gilliland's team is also doing related mapping work in cooperation with several local municipalities, health units, and the Children's Hospital of Southwestern Ontario, including tracking the health of 1,200 children in the region using GPS technology.

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