GeoHealth Lab @ CRSSA: Mapping and Measuring Landscapes for Healthy Living

GeoHealth and CRSSA logos

The GeoHealth Lab seeks to rapidly accelerate applications of volunteered geographic information (VGI), design and geospatial tools for guiding decisions about ways to make our landscapes healthier places to live and exercise. Housed at Rutgers’ Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, the GeoHealth Lab is a research group focused on employing geospatial research techniques to study resource patterns (like food environment, activity environment, urban greenness, access to care) in the landscape that are thought to be impacting the health of residents while testing design approaches with the potential goal of improving community health. The lab’s research has contributed to publications in a variety of journals including Lancet Global Health, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Preventive Medicine Reports, Preventive Medicine, AIDS and Behavior, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and Journal of Digital Landscape Architecture.

Spatial Health Problems

Our environment shapes our lives and, ultimately, our health. While that principle is clear, the information we hold about these landscapes and our understanding of their relationship to health is often limited. Do planner and designers have sufficient information about those landscapes to guide planning and design decisions? Which locations are most suited to changes that could positively impact health? What data and information could the public collect to help advance research or interventions in these landscapes?

The idea behind geohealth is not terribly new. When Cholera swept through London (again) in 1854, Dr. John Snow used innovative mapping to illustrate a spatial cluster around a water pump, thus proving the link between the epidemic and water.

GeoHealth Lab Group

The Geohealth Lab Group is led by Dr. David Tulloch, Associate Director of the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis. Dr. Tulloch is an Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture, an SEBS Honor Fellow and a member of the graduate faculty of geography. 

Brenda Allen-Hedgeman recently completed an MS in environmental Science. She has been a team member on the Childhood Obesity project since January 2012.

Nancky McKeon is a Rutgers SEBS Honors student studying public health and epidemiology. She is a contyributor to the mapping of the surgical landscapes of Colombia.

Manish Namburi is a honors student and research intern at the Geohealth Lab. He is exploring applications of geostatistics to geohealth problems using programs like R to complement ArcMap.

Kate Brandt was an undergraduate student in Environmental Planning and Design. She helped lead the original 2016 summer Geohealth Workshop and contributed to both the HIV/AIDS mapping and the Childhood Obesity project. Today she is a PhD Student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, still working to make healthier communities.

Maryann Gulotta completed her MCRP at the Bloustein School. She worked primarily on the Childhood Obesity project for over a year. She is now a community planner on the Jersey Shore.

Surgical Systems in Columbia

The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery established a series of 6 indicators to assess surgical systems in low and middle income countries. The Geohealth Lab has partnered with Rutgers Global Surgery to map out the geographic components of the standard. At its heart is an emphasis on the standard of 2-hour access to surgical facilities. The first major publication of this work is a peer-reviewed paper in The Lancet Global Health, called “Use of the six core surgical indicators from the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery in Colombia: a situational analysis.”

In Fulfilling Colombia’s Universal Health Coverage Through National Surgical System Strengthening the maps helped explain areas of limited access. Moving ahead the analysis is allowing the team -- including research partners Gregory Peck (, Joseph Hanna (, Mauricio Vasco Ramirez, and Gabriel Eduardo Herrera Almario ( -- to see all 6 indicators mapped out across Colombia.

Click for full size map: "Percent of population without 2-hour access, by municipio"
Percent of population without 2-hour access, by municipio | Click for full size map

Exploring the Spread of COVID in New Jersey

The value of health geography during an event is different than afterwards. During the pandemic, the GeoHealth Lab @ CRSSA has been exploring municipal patterns of COVID-19 in New Jersey. With 565 municipalities, this is a fairly detailed look at the movement of the virus across the landscapes of the Garden State. It is fraught with challenges since not all municipalities are reporting these numbers every day, they may not be using consistent definitions, and the municipalities range wildly in area and population. While we are culling these data from a variety of sources - tweets by mayors, county web sites, various newspapers - the reporters at have not only been publishing numbers, but they published a great explanation of why you should be wary of these data. In that spirit, these early data visualizations are offered as a rapid response during the event with the intention of giving way ultimately to studies and representations made retrospectively.

Click for full size map: COVID NJ
Click for full size map



Collaborating with Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh from Rutgers-Camden and Kaci Mial from Widener University, the Geohealth Lab has been mapping out patterns of HIV/AIDS in the greater Philadelphia area to compare with patterns of access to female condoms.

The map, along with their other results, were published in the journal AIDS and Behavior, showing that one percent of the 1228 service providers contacted sold/provided the female condom and 77% sold/provided the male condom. Juxtaposed against a map of HIV prevalence, the limited availability of female condoms has serious health and policy implications for communities throughout the city.

GeoHealth Workshops

This project developed a community assessment of both the food environment and the physical activity environment for Elizabeth, New Jersey through a series of Geohealth Workshops. The primary method for conducting this assessment was an innovative Geohealth Workshop format that allows local students to learn to use geospatial technology, empowering them to make a spatial assessment of healthy eating and physical activity components in their own community.

GeoHealth Workshop: GIS on screen and students

The participating students (both high school and college) were organized through a partner non-profit group in Elizabeth, Future City Inc. The workshop gave students the opportunity to experience a college environment, learning how to use geospatial technologies in the computer lab at Rutgers’ Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA). Their training also included a series of pre-workshop meetings at the Historical Society of Elizabeth’s Bonnell House (1684), just a short walk from the Elizabeth train station as well as Elizabeth High School.

The 2016 and 2017 workshops were funded by the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network. The 2015 workshop was self-funded.  The final products included a student-designed and written, interactive story maps online for public access to the student products (2016 Story Map: 2017 Story Map). The workshops were also featured in a SEBS Newsroom story about the Geohealth Workshops. A brief summary was presented as a poster for the NJHCN.

GeoHealth Workshop Poster, CRSSA - Tulloch
Click for full size map

Childhood Obesity

One of the most significant health problems facing American communities today is childhood obesity. Diet-related health problems (e.g., 25 million Americans are diabetic) have combined to create a health epidemic so sweeping that Detroit has changed its crash test dummies to match.

Partnering with Rutgers' Center for State Health Policy, we have spent years mapping the changing food environment and physical activity environment of several New Jersey cities. In 2010, we published a series of 10 map books showing the initial results of the mapping work:

Food Environment Physical Activity Environment
Camden (PDF) Camden (PDF)
Newark (PDF) Newark (PDF)
New Brunswick (PDF) New Brunswick (PDF)
Trenton (PDF) Trenton (PDF)
Vineland (PDF) Vineland (PDF)

As the project has continued with support from both NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it has compared data about children and their BMI with the food environment and physical activity environment around them. The results from this research on the relationship between BMI and environment, as well as neighborhood perceptions, led to a longitudinal study, currently underway.

GeoHealth in the Classroom

The application of GIS to health issues is at the heart of important classroom lessons. For students in a variety of majors, this important topic helps them build technical skills while developing a greater appreciation for the health landscape.

Through the honors Program of SEBS, Dr. Tulloch is teaching an Honors Seminar in Making and Mapping Healthier Communities. In the Fall of 2015, Dr. Tulloch taught a graduate landscape architecture studio that partnered with the Planning Office of Middlesex County to develop design solutions for healthier communities.

Keeping Up with GeoHealth

As a rapidly growing field there are always plenty of events and new papers to read. A sampling of these are marked with the geohealth tag on Places and Spaces. You can also explore the Twitter hasthtag #Geohealth.

students during the 2015 Geohealth workshop


David L. Tulloch
Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture
Associate Director, Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)

Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
14 College Farm Road, Cook Campus
New Brunswick, NJ USA 08901-8551

Webpage revised by the GeoHealth Lab, © 2020. Page last updated 04/30/2020.