Geographic Information Systems

Candace I.J. Nykiforuk

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Geographic Information Systems


Understanding relationships between health and environmental factors (e.g., sociodemographic, economic, political, and physical variables) is complex. Geographic information systems (GIS) have emerged as a venue through which micro-, macro-, and intermediary-level variables can be considered in the investigation and presentation of such relationships. GIS and the underlying science (geographic information science, or GISc) combine to form the study of the acquisition, handling, and visualization of geographic data and information through the use of computer systems. GIS/GISc is closely related to other geospatial sciences, such as surveying and remote sensing. There is a wide range of specific GIS packages available to study geographic data, varying in the scope of analyses possible as well as in computing power and cost requirements. Any given GIS provides a single system to integrate spatial data and related qualitative and quantitative information about social, economic, health, or environmental conditions, which are listed as “attributes” of the spatial location. From this spatial analysis, significant relationships among those variables that influence health at a range of aggregations, from local to international, can be identified. Using GIS allows results from the analysis (i.e., patterns in the data) to be presented in the form of visually appealing, high-impact maps. These maps have the ability to tell stories and communicate patterns in ways not possible with other data-presentation techniques. To this end, GIS has been used in environmental health, disease ecology, and public health as a tool for processing, analyzing, and visualizing data. Overall, GIS is a highly powerful tool that effectively combines disparate data sources to visually illustrate complex relationships within data. It is therefore able to address many research questions or practical applications, such as “How do rates of certain types of cancer differ across the country?” or “How have the rates of malaria changed across the world over the last number of decades?” GIS have been established as a means to effectively link and analyze a wide range of data, and they can be meaningfully applied to public health policy, promotion, and practice.

Article.  10644 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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