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 Landscapes for Healthy Living 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.

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 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.

Kate Brandt is an undergraduate student in Environmental Planning and Design. She helped lead the original 2016 summer Geohealth Workshop and has also expanded to contribute to both the HIV/AIDS mapping and the Childhood Obesity project.

Maryann Gulotta recently completed her MCRP at the Bloustein School. She worked primarily on the Childhood Obesity project for over a year.


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.

2016 GeoHealth Workshop

The summer Geohealth Workshop is back for 2016 with support from the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network.

For the Summer 2016, we will have a new group of experts and be exploring the food environment of Elizabeth.

2015 GeoHealth Workshop

Students gave up a week of their summer for a workshop demonstrating the relevance of GeoHealth mapping for a community. The study area for the 2015 Workshop was Elizabeth, NJ which was made possible by partnering with Future City, Inc.

The participants ranged in age from high school freshman to a doctoral student. And their varied backgrounds contributed to a richer exploration of the health landscapes of Elizabeth. At the end of the week they produced a customized Story Map to tell one geospatial story of this community.

The SEBS Newsroom covered the results.

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 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, © 2015. Page last updated 05/17/2016.