Traveling Together: A Roadmap for Researching Neighborhood Effects on Population Health and Health Inequities

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American Journal of Epidemiology




As evidence of the relationship between place and health mounts, more epidemiologists and clinical science researchers are becoming interested in incorporating place-based measures and analyses into their examination of population health and health inequities. Given the extensive literature on place and health, it can be challenging for researchers new to this area to develop neighborhood effects research questions and apply the appropriate measures and methods. This paper provides a Roadmap to guide health researchers through the conceptual and methodological stages of incorporating various dimensions of place into their quantitative health research. Synthesizing across reviews, commentaries, and empirical investigations, this Roadmap consists of four broad stages for considering place and health: 1. WHY: articulating the motivation for assessing place and health and grounding the motivation in theory; 2. WHAT: identifying the relevant place-based characteristics and specifying their link to health to build a conceptual framework; 3. HOW: determining how to operationalize the conceptual framework by defining, measuring, and assessing place-based characteristics and quantifying their effect on health; and 4: NOW WHAT: discussing the implications of neighborhood research findings for future research, policy, and practice. This Roadmap supports efforts to develop conceptually and analytically rigorous neighborhood research projects.


Place and health, neighborhood effects, physical environment, social environment


Public Health and Recreation