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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

Systematic Neighborhood Observations at High Spatial Resolution: Methodology and Assessment of Potential Benefits
Published: Friday, June 03, 2011
Author: Tammy C. M. Leonard et al.

by Tammy C. M. Leonard, Margaret O'Brien Caughy, Judith K. Mays, James C. Murdoch

There is a growing body of public health research documenting how characteristics of neighborhoods are associated with differences in the health status of residents. However, little is known about how the spatial resolution of neighborhood observational data or community audits affects the identification of neighborhood differences in health. We developed a systematic neighborhood observation instrument for collecting data at very high spatial resolution (we observe each parcel independently) and used it to collect data in a low-income minority neighborhood in Dallas, TX. In addition, we collected data on the health status of individuals residing in this neighborhood. We then assessed the inter-rater reliability of the instrument and compared the costs and benefits of using data at this high spatial resolution. Our instrument provides a reliable and cost-effect method for collecting neighborhood observational data at high spatial resolution, which then allows researchers to explore the impact of varying geographic aggregations. Furthermore, these data facilitate a demonstration of the predictive accuracy of self-reported health status. We find that ordered logit models of health status using observational data at different spatial resolution produce different results. This implies a need to analyze the variation in correlative relationships at different geographic resolutions when there is no solid theoretical rational for choosing a particular resolution. We argue that neighborhood data at high spatial resolution greatly facilitates the evaluation of alternative geographic specifications in studies of neighborhood and health.