The Neighborhood Atlas—Free Social Determinants of Health Data for All!
At NIA, we know that achieving and maintaining good health is about more than biology. The neighborhoods where we live, work, play, worship and grow older play significant roles1: Income levels, education, housing quality, and employment, or lack thereof, are all factors.
Residential segregation by race in the U.S. is still high, but has been falling since 1960. Yet segregation by income continues to rise. Certainly, studying these neighborhoods and their residents is a key step to advancing real-world health equities. The catch has been that gathering socioeconomic metrics about a particular neighborhood, and sharing and accessing any data collected, has proved difficult for researchers across many fields, including NIH-supported scientists who study aging. Until now!
Recognizing the accessibility problem, NIA, in partnership with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) at the NIH, has funded a new publicly available tool that makes such metrics more accessible to all: The Neighborhood Atlas.
Easy-to-use, essential data
Developed by Amy Kind, M.D., Ph.D., and her team at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the Neighborhood Atlas2 is a user-friendly, online tool that enables customized ranking and mapping of neighborhoods according to socioeconomic disadvantage across the full U.S., including Puerto Rico. Anyone can use the Neighborhood Atlas, not just researchers: If you can use a smartphone mapping app, you can use the Atlas — no fancy degree required! Additionally, the Atlas includes free downloads of neighborhood disadvantage data, which you can easily link to other research resources in a number of ways, including by cross-linkages to more than 69 million nine-digit zip codes.
Atlas data have already been employed by U.S. state and federal agencies, community and other not-for-profit organizations, health systems and industry. Researchers are actively using these data across NIH, but we would like to see more use of it in research on aging.
You can use Atlas data to:
- Characterize neighborhood disadvantage exposure across your study cohort, clinical trial or biomarker repository;
- Target research outreach, recruitment and retention efforts for key populations;
- Provide a novel lens by which to view your study outcomes; and
- Precisely target new community partners in intervention development, testing and design.
All these uses and more, and it’s completely free! Hooray for open data!
NIA does support a number of resources that allow parsing of geographic data in multiple ways. These resources are largely linked to the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and require a data-use agreement to access the HRS data along with the geographic coding. We will describe these resources in an upcoming post. The Neighborhood Atlas is remarkable for its openness and accessibility. That openness allows multiple uses.
We hope you will check it out. To learn more, see the citation linked below and other information contained on the Neighborhood Atlas home page. Please give it a try and let us know your thoughts below.
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2020: Social Determinants of Health. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health
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- Kind AJH, Buckingham W. Making Neighborhood Disadvantage Metrics Accessible: The Neighborhood Atlas. New England Journal of Medicine, 2018. 378(26):2456-2458. PMCID: PMC6051533
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