Assessing Neighborhoods in Epidemiology

Monday, June 17, 2019 - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 1:30 PM-5:30 PM

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Course Description

A large body of research in epidemiology and population health has investigated connections between neighborhood (e.g. residential, social and work) characteristics (e.g. crime rate, density of fast food restaurants, distance to parks) and a myriad of health outcomes (e.g. obesity, mental health, substance use). This research has characterized neighborhood factors in multiple ways. This course will discuss standard and emerging methods to study neighborhood characteristics. In particular, the course will provide an overview of neighborhood characteristic assessment methods, including self-report, systematic social observation, geographic information system (GIS) methods, web-based geospatial methods, real-time geospatial methods, crowd-sourced geospatial methods and information retrieval methods. We will discuss the strengths and limitations of each neighborhood characteristic assessment methods (e.g. ease of administration, validity), and students will be provided with examples of each neighborhood assessment method applied in the epidemiology and population health literature. In addition, this course will discuss different methods to examine neighborhood boundaries, including self-report, administrative definitions, ego-centric buffers and global positioning system (GPS)-defined activity spaces. We will discuss the strengths and limitations of each method of examining neighborhood boundaries (e.g. spatial misclassification, technical difficulty), and students will be provided with examples of each neighborhood boundary applied in the epidemiology and population health literature.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:


  • Critically assess the broad literature on neighborhoods in epidemiology and population health, including strengths and weaknesses in the conceptualization, study design, measurement, and interpretation of study findings
  • Identify and articulate various approaches to studying neighborhood characteristics
  • Describe the strengths and limitations of the various approaches to studying neighborhoods
  • Identify and articulate different methods of examining neighborhood boundaries
  • Describe the strengths and limitations of the different methods of examining neighborhood boundaries
  • Apply knowledge to plan a study on neighborhoods in epidemiology and population health


None, but an introductory course in Social Epidemiology will be helpful.

Course Reading List

Brownson RC, Hoehner CM, Day K, Forsyth A, Sallis JF. Measuring the built environment for physical activity: state of the science. Am J Prev Med. 2009 Apr;36(4 Suppl):S99-123.e12.


Rundle AG, Bader MD, Richards CA, Neckerman KM, Teitler JO. Using Google Street View to audit neighborhood environments. Am J Prev Med. 2011 Jan;40(1):94-100.


Oliver M, Doherty AR, Kelly P, Badland HM, Mavoa S, Shepherd J, Kerr J, Marshall S, Hamilton A, Foster C. Utility of passive photography to objectively audit built environment features of active transport journeys: an observational study. Int J Health Geogr. 2013 Apr 10;12:20.


Duncan DT, Aldstadt J, Whalen J, Melly SJ, Gortmaker SL. Validation of Walk Score® for Estimating Neighborhood Walkability: An Analysis of Four US Metropolitan Areas. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2011 Nov; 8(11): 4160-4179.


Chae DH, Clouston S, Hatzenbuehler ML, Kramer MR, Cooper HL, Wilson SM, Stephens- Davidowitz SI, Gold RS, Link BG. Association between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality. PLoS One. 2015 Apr 24;10(4):e0122963.


Duncan DT, Kawachi I, Subramanian SV, Aldstadt J, Melly SJ, Williams DR. Examination of how neighborhood definition influences measurements of youths' access to tobacco retailers: a methodological note on spatial misclassification. Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Feb 1;179(3):373-81.




Duncan DT, Regan SD, Chaix B. Operational Neighborhood Definitions in Health Research: Spatial Misclassification and Other Issues. In: Duncan DT, Kawachi I, editors. Neighborhoods and Health, 2nd Edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2018: 19-56.


Duncan DT, Goedel WC, Chunara R. Quantitative Methods for Measuring Neighborhood Characteristics in Health Research. In: Duncan DT, Kawachi I, editors. Neighborhoods and Health, 2nd Edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2018: 57-90.


Zenk SN, Horoi I, McDonald A, Corte C, Riley B, Odoms-Young AM. Ecological momentary assessment of environmental and personal factors and snack food intake in African American women. Appetite. 2014 Dec;83:333-41.


Rosenberg D, Ding D, Sallis JF, Kerr J, Norman GJ, Durant N, Harris SK, Saelens BE. Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale for Youth (NEWS-Y): reliability and relationship with physical activity. Prev Med. 2009 Aug-Sep;49(2-3):213-8.


Echeverria SE, Diez-Roux AV, Link BG. Reliability of self-reported neighborhood characteristics. J Urban Health. 2004 Dec;81(4):682-701.


Mujahid MS, Diez Roux AV, Morenoff JD, Raghunathan T. Assessing the measurement properties of neighborhood scales: from psychometrics to ecometrics. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Apr 15;165(8):858-67.


Koblin BA, Egan JE, Rundle A, Quinn J, Tieu HV, Cerdá M, Ompad DC, Greene E, Hoover DR, Frye V. Methods to measure the impact of home, social, and sexual neighborhoods of urban gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. PLoS One. 2013 Oct 16;8(10):e75878.


Chaix B, Méline J, Duncan S, Merrien C, Karusisi N, Perchoux C, Lewin A, Labadi K, Kestens Y. GPS tracking in neighborhood and health studies: a step forward for environmental exposure assessment, a step backward for causal inference? Health Place. 2013 May; 21:46-51.


Additional PDF optional readings will be supplied to the students by the instructor.


Dustin T. Duncan, ScD

Dustin T. Duncan, ScD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, where he directs the Spatial Epidemiology Lab. At NYU, he is also a Faculty Affiliate at the College of Global Public Health, the Population Center, the Center for Data Science, the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies, the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, Broome Street Residential College, and NYU Abu Dhabi. Dr. Duncan is a Social and Spatial Epidemiologist, studying how specific neighborhood characteristics influence population health and health disparities. His research has a strong domestic (U.S.) focus, but recent work is beginning to span across the globe. Methodologically, his research utilizes a geospatial lens to apply spatially explicit approaches such as computer-based geographic information systems (GIS), web-based geospatial technologies, real-time geospatial technologies, and geospatial modeling techniques. Dr. Duncan completed both his doctorate and the Alonzo Smythe Yerby Postdoctoral Fellowship, both in Social Epidemiology, at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


Course Fee

Registration cost for this course is $425.00.


The registration period has closed for this event.


Monday: Room LL205: Tuesday: Room LL203

701 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032

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