Austin's (Waistlines Are) Growing, but Use of Big Data, Detailed Map Technology Might Reverse the Trend

One of the many afflictions that hurt the poor disproportionately, obesity is quite simply an epidemic in the US' underpriveleged neighborhoods. Austin is no different. 

But new mapping technology is tracking the growing city's poor, who, with gentrification, are moving more and more to the fringes of the city. The technology will help pinpoint where to direct resources and where exactly obesity is most damaging.

Government Technology describes the program, run by Children's Optimal Health (COH), as such:

COH struck us for its use of data visualization as a tool to inform interventions in the city’s youth obesity problem. A Texas law requires public schools to record fitness data on every student. Through data-sharing agreements with the school districts, COH gathers metrics on BMI and cardiovascular fitness scores that are geo-tagged with social and economic information. COH converts de-identified person-level data to aggregate neighborhood-level maps that illuminate the conditions faced by families and children in the area, all while protecting personal information. Enhanced with other data sets, these maps tell a more complex story of the factors that influence health outcomes — from proximity to fast food restaurants to the stress of high neighborhood crime rates.

Simply put, COH is using available (and anonymous) data, putting it into a highly intuitive, visual form, then disseminating it. There has been one almost immediate result – in the school system itself, which has repurposed the data to help change its P.E. program.

Changing the physical education curriculum in schools was never part of the hospital’s business model, just as targeting interventions in existing infrastructure was never part of the school’s strategic plan. COH was created to serve as a neutral ground for these key players, who wouldn’t normally interact with one another but, sitting at the same table, share a desire for real results.

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