Monday, September 8, 2014

How accessible are community and health resources? A study maps distance to health facilities.

Location is a vital factor when looking at people’s accessibility to resources and even healthiness.  There are many ways to examine the relationship between health and location, and distance to health facilities and community resources is one of them.  In addition to the benefits gained from living closer to the facilities, people would also have more free time if they were closer to them.  On the other side of the distance spectrum, there are “food deserts” – areas where grocers are difficult to access.  The point of this article was to showcase the ability of GIS to map neighborhood access to community resources, and the importance this will have to health researchers who can use this data to investigate the effects of distance to community resources and health facilities.

In their study, the setting of the data and maps span all of New Zealand, including rural and urban settings.  The data were gathered from the smallest unit of measurement in the New Zealand census, the meshblock. There were 16 types of facilities within five domains chosen to be categorized as health related. The authors found their data from a variety of governmental resources in New Zealand. The first domain was for recreational amenities, including parks, sports/leisure areas, and beaches.  The second was for shopping facilities, comprised of supermarkets and dairy/fruit/vegetable vendors.  The third was for educational facilities: Daycare/playgrounds, elementary schools, middle/high schools, and colleges.  The fourth was for specific health facilities:  general practitioners, pharmacies, accident and emergency, child care services, ambulances, and fire stations.  The final category was reserved for the Marae, which are facilities meant for the service of Maori people and culture.
Unsurprisingly, the map shows easy access in New Zealand’s big cities.  Coastal areas also seem to have more access to community resources than inland areas.  Using means, the most accessible resource was parks at only 2.83 minutes to get there.  Beaches were the least accessible, at an average of 23.22 minutes to get there.  One of the problems with the study was that public transportation was not included in any way, nor was car ownership.  In conclusion, this type of mapping could be very valuable to further research on location and health, and it should be pursued further.


Pearce, J., Witten, K., & Bartie, P. (2006). Neighbourhoods and health: a GIS approach to measuring community resource accessibility. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 60(5), 389-395.  file:///C:/Users/rossd/Downloads/Pearce-2006-NeighborhoodEffects_GIS.pdf


  1. I thought it was interesting that recreational facilities like parks were included on this map. Recreational facilities don't seem like they would have an effect on a populations health, but I suppose having easy access to a park can provide a place for people to exercise, and the population might be healthier.

  2. Although it would have made the map more complicated it would have been interesting to see public transit and car ownership factored in. If a facility is a 20 minute car ride away, but there is no access to public transit and the person doesn't own a car that facility becomes a lot less accessible.