Debut of the neighborhood atlas: An interactive map of neighborhood disadvantage to guide medical decision-making

Dr. Amy Kind speaks at EPIC Systems

Socio-economic factors can affect health in surprising ways.

For example: A doctor prescribes insulin for a diabetic patient, but doesn’t ask if the patient has a refrigerator in which to store it. The patient lives in a neighborhood with substandard housing conditions, and a working refrigerator or electricity isn’t a given. The insulin spoils and doesn’t control the patient’s blood sugar.

A new map of neighborhood disadvantage may help better address that kind of problem, while boosting research into the social factors that shape health.

Led by Amy Kind, MD, PhD, associate professor, Geriatrics and Gerontology in collaboration with William Buckingham, PhD, assistant scientist, UW Applied Population Laboratory, researchers have developed an accessible, online, interactive map of more than 70 million ZIP+4 codes so that users can find data on socio-economic factors at the neighborhood level. The Neighborhood Atlas helps quantify the degree of disadvantage in a given area – a factor increasingly viewed as critical to assessing health disparities and effective interventions.

An article about the Neighborhood Atlas was published on June 28, 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Red areas on the map have more disadvantages and blue areas have fewer.

"We want this to be a tool that everyone can use. You don’t need a technical degree to use the map. We hope this will be a catalyst to new policy efforts, research studies, resource alignment and clinical interventions which are needed to eliminate US health disparities," said Dr. Kind.

The map is based on the Area Deprivation Index (ADI), a measure created by the Health Resources and Services Administration many years ago for use on larger geographic areas and based on census data. Dr. Kind’s research group has modernized and refined the ADI down to the neighborhood level for all of the neighborhoods within the United States and Puerto Rico.

Furthermore, the interactive map that they have constructed makes the information easily accessible to all users and mergeable into many other data resources. The ADI includes four areas: unemployment, poverty, education and housing and includes multiple measures of each area to yield a picture of a given area’s socio-economic disadvantage.

"Census data and health maps have been around for years but often focus on limited populations or only provide information at larger county or state levels — making them difficult to practically apply in many clinical, policy and research settings," said Dr. Kind. "The Neighborhood Atlas offers information on the national population. It goes into greater detail and gives more information on what life is like on the ground at any given neighborhood in the United States and Puerto Rico."