Health Geography Primer for RI

The Brown Family Medicine Residency at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island was interested in training residents in health geography and GIS as part of a grant for transforming primary care for adolescents and children in under-served communities. I stepped in and developed a training module and presentation on thematic mapping of health outcomes and determinant variables in Rhode Island.  I personally developed all the figures and analysis in the Primer using free and open source data and software: mainly the U.S. Census, Kids Count, RIGIS, and QGIS. You can download the Primer here (address is case-sensitive):


To demonstrate the importance of geographic analysis for health problems, we worked through an example case of class, race, housing age, and lead poisoning in Rhode Island’s children (see gallery of maps).  In Rhode Island, the classic urban geography models of concentric zone theory and sector theory hold true in many places, with new immigrant groups moving into old residential areas of Rhode Island’s cities along the Blackstone River Valley and in Newport. Memorial Hospital’s service area encompasses the heart of Rhode Island’s industrialization in Pawtucket and Central Falls. There are some exceptions exemplified by new downtown developments and gentrified areas around Brown University and the East Side, but the gentrification process provides ample opportunity and legal oversight to mitigate lead paint exposures. Despite new state legislation regulating lead paint, compliance remains low.

Following the test case, we worked on improving geographic literacy by demonstrating the significance of scale and modifiable areal units, classification, and normalization. Finally, we discussed some fundamental GIS analysis, e.g. proximity analysis with parks, density surfaces of crime rates, integration of multiple variables with selection and overlay in the USDA food access research atlas, and multi-criteria analysis with the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.