Geographic Information

Recommendation 5: Federal agencies and departments, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, should promote the systematic collection, dissemination, and linkage of data on children’s exposure to toxins, air pollution, and other environmental conditions, as well as data on policies likely to affect children’s health. The Census Bureau should continue to collect and distribute local-area data and facilitate efforts to match these data to existing sources of information on children’s health and its influences.

Recommendation 6: Government and private agencies and academic organizations that conduct health-related surveys or compile administrative data should geocode addresses (i.e., provide geographic identifiers) in ways that facilitate linkages to census-based and other neighborhood, community, city, and state data on environmental conditions. With adequate protections to ensure the confidentiality and security of individual data, they should also make geocoded data as accessible as possible to the research and planning communities.

An emerging body of evidence demonstrates a clear association between geographic location and children’s health. Suggestive associations have been established for such environmental conditions as neighborhood, socioeconomic conditions, crime, community cohesion, ambient noise, traffic flow, and air quality.

Efforts to monitor and understand environmental influences on children’s health are facilitated by the systematic collection of regional, neighborhood, and community-level information. Most importantly, demographic and economic information about neighborhoods (census tracts), communities, cities, and states has been collected and made available to planners and researchers every 10 years as part of the decennial census. Continued collection of most of this information is threatened by congressional plans to eliminate the long-form questionnaire from the 2010 census. The emerging American Community Survey (ACS) has been proposed as the vehicle for collection of long-form data. The committee supports the continued collection of these vital neighborhood data. Information at the census tract level on the demographic and economic characteristics of neighborhoods should continue to be collected at least once every 10 years and preferably more often, through the ACS, the decennial census, or in some other way.

Other local and regional environmental data, such as neighborhood and community-wide crime rates, regional air quality, and doctor availability in a health services planning area, also hold great value for health planners and researchers. Such data can help specify gradients in the effect of different influences, in order to specify thresholds of concern and to better target prevention,

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