Emerging technologies to measure neighborhood conditions in public health: Implications for interventions and next steps

M. Schootman, E. J. Nelson, K. Werner, E. Shacham, M. Elliott, K. Ratnapradipa, M. Lian, A. McVay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Adverse neighborhood conditions play an important role beyond individual characteristics. There is increasing interest in identifying specific characteristics of the social and built environments adversely affecting health outcomes. Most research has assessed aspects of such exposures via self-reported instruments or census data. Potential threats in the local environment may be subject to short-term changes that can only be measured with more nimble technology. The advent of new technologies may offer new opportunities to obtain geospatial data about neighborhoods that may circumvent the limitations of traditional data sources. This overview describes the utility, validity and reliability of selected emerging technologies to measure neighborhood conditions for public health applications. It also describes next steps for future research and opportunities for interventions. The paper presents an overview of the literature on measurement of the built and social environment in public health (Google Street View, webcams, crowdsourcing, remote sensing, social media, unmanned aerial vehicles, and lifespace) and location-based interventions. Emerging technologies such as Google Street View, social media, drones, webcams, and crowdsourcing may serve as effective and inexpensive tools to measure the ever-changing environment. Georeferenced social media responses may help identify where to target intervention activities, but also to passively evaluate their effectiveness. Future studies should measure exposure across key time points during the life-course as part of the exposome paradigm and integrate various types of data sources to measure environmental contexts. By harnessing these technologies, public health research can not only monitor populations and the environment, but intervene using novel strategies to improve the public health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 23 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Environment and public health
  • Geographic locations
  • Intervention studies
  • Neighborhood
  • Public health informatics
  • Residence characteristics
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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