Smart density: a more accurate method of measuring rural residential density for health-related researchReport as inadecuate

Smart density: a more accurate method of measuring rural residential density for health-related research - Download this document for free, or read online. Document in PDF available to download.

International Journal of Health Geographics

, 9:8

First Online: 12 February 2010Received: 16 November 2009Accepted: 12 February 2010DOI: 10.1186-1476-072X-9-8

Cite this article as: Owens, P.M., Titus-Ernstoff, L., Gibson, L. et al. Int J Health Geogr 2010 9: 8. doi:10.1186-1476-072X-9-8


BackgroundStudies involving the built environment have typically relied on US Census data to measure residential density. However, census geographic units are often unsuited to health-related research, especially in rural areas where development is clustered and discontinuous.

ObjectiveWe evaluated the accuracy of both standard census methods and alternative GIS-based methods to measure rural density.

MethodsWe compared residential density units-acre in 335 Vermont school neighborhoods using conventional census geographic units tract, block group and block with two GIS buffer measures: a 1-kilometer km circle around the school and a 1-km circle intersected with a 100-meter m road-network buffer. The accuracy of each method was validated against the actual residential density for each neighborhood based on the Vermont e911 database, which provides an exact geo-location for all residential structures in the state.

ResultsStandard census measures underestimate residential density in rural areas. In addition, the degree of error is inconsistent so even the relative rank of neighborhood densities varies across census measures. Census measures explain only 61% to 66% of the variation in actual residential density. In contrast, GIS buffer measures explain approximately 90% of the variation. Combining a 1-km circle with a road-network buffer provides the closest approximation of actual residential density.

ConclusionResidential density based on census units can mask clusters of development in rural areas and distort associations between residential density and health-related behaviors and outcomes. GIS-defined buffers, including a 1-km circle and a road-network buffer, can be used in conjunction with census data to obtain a more accurate measure of residential density.

Abbreviations and DefinitionsGISGeographic Information System.

Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article doi:10.1186-1476-072X-9-8 contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Download fulltext PDF

Author: Peter M Owens - Linda Titus-Ernstoff - Lucinda Gibson - Michael L Beach - Sandy Beauregard - Madeline A Dalton


Related documents