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Geography and Health

Various AAG initiatives have generated an increased awareness by health researchers as well as geographers of the core role that geography and GIScience can play in addressing global health needs, both in research and in practice.


Joint initiatives with NIH

The AAG has been working closely with National Institutes for Health (NIH) for nearly a decade on the integration of geography and GIScience in medical and health research. Across the NIH’s 30 individual institutes is a significant need for spatial data and geographic context to inform research. Specific research areas include drug addiction, mental health, gene-environment interactions, tracking disease outbreaks, and the assessment of health service delivery.

  • While many individual NIH institutes had made independent and fragmented investments in spatial data and tools, a coordinated approach through a common GIS infrastructure offers significant advantages. In 2009 the AAG Initiative for an NIH-Wide GIS Infrastructure launched to explore the potential for a more integrated GIS infrastructure to enhance the ability of NIH researchers to make use of geographic information systems, geocoding services and mapping. 
  • The AAG held a workshop in February 2011 with senior scientists and administrative leaders from all across NIH, as well as extramural researchers, to further develop the conceptual framework and GIScience research needed for implementation of an NIH-wide GIS infrastructure. Read the report
  • The AAG also received funding from NIH for a project entitled Geospatial Frontiers in Health and Social Environments which brought together leading researchers in geography, GIScience, biomedical research, public health, and other computational, social, and behavioral sciences. A series of interdisciplinary symposia were held in 2012-2013 to discuss health research needs and GIScience developments and innovations. Read the final report


AAG Annual Meeting

Every Annual Meeting features sessions on geography and health but in recent years it has also been a special theme giving scholars from geography, GIScience, medicine and health science the opportunity to exploring new frontiers of research. For example:



Geography and Drug Addiction
Edited by Yonette Thomas, Douglas B. Richardson and Ivan Cheung
Springer, 2008

Establishing an NIH-wide geospatial infrastructure for medical research: Opportunities, challenges, and next steps 
Report by Douglas B. Richardson, Jean McKendry, Michael F. Goodchild, Mei-Po Kwan, Sara McLafferty, Zaria Tatalovich, David Stinchcomb, and Bethany Deeds
Association of American Geographers, June 2011

Geographies of Health   
Special Issue of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, edited by Mei-Po Kwan
Volume 102, Issue 5, September 2012

Spatial Turn in Health Research 
By Douglas B. Richardson, Nora D. Volkow, Mei-Po Kwan, Robert M. Kaplan, Michael F. Goodchild, Robert T. Croyle
Science, March 22, 2013, pp. 1390-1392

Geospatial Frontiers in Health and Social Environments  
Final report by Association of American Geographers, November 2013


Useful links

AAG Health and Medical Geography Specialty Group
An international forum for disseminating research on health and wellbeing, disease, illness, spatial epidemiology, disease ecology, population health, ethnomedicine and non-western understandings of health and medicine, spatial aspects of healthcare delivery, and healthcare policy and political economy.