Over the last two decades, research investigating the ways in which aspects of our physical and social environments influence health has grown exponentially. This research has been aided by the growth of health informatics to link across different types of data (e.g., electronic medical records and census information) and is motivated by the recognition that residential context is an important part of "personalized medicine" - that when it comes to prevention strategies and treatment planning, both genetic code and zip code are relevant.
CSEPH faculty are pushing the boundaries to use novel and historical data sources to characterize neighborhood exposures relevant to a broad array of health outcomes.These include: characterizing aspects of neighborhood built environments, transportation access, and housing quality and how those features relate to mobility; examining how neighborhood environments influence social participation, respect and social inclusion, particularly for persons with disabilities; investigating how residential segregation influences risk of communicable diseases and health behaviors; and how neighborhood contexts influence civic participation and information sharing. Assessing how the broader social, political, and economic structural context shaping unequal allocation of neighborhood resources - and risks - at the local level are central to this work.
This research involves novel data sources. For example, CSEPH faculty are involved in projects that use geo-referenced social media data to map local attitudes towards health in a manner previously unavailable in traditional contextual measures. Other projects include using machine-learning approaches to refine surveillance of where suicides occur to inform prevention efforts; using historical data to explore how residential segregation contributes to transmission of tuberculosis and substance abuse; and investigating how environmental exposures (e.g., air pollution, climate change, extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes, extreme heat)) influence the health of older adults. Collectively, this research stresses the importance of considering factors beyond the individual when investigating population health and health disparities.