machine learning approaches for measuring neighborhood environments in epidemiologic studies

Purpose of review. Innovations in information technology, initiatives by local governments to share administrative data, and growing inventories of data available from commercial data aggregators have immensely expanded the information available to describe neighborhood environments, supporting an approach to research we call Urban Health Informatics. This review evaluates the application of machine learning to this new wealth of data for studies of the effects of neighborhood environments on health.

Recent findings. Prominent machine learning applications in this field include automated image analysis of archived imagery such as Google Street View images, variable selection methods to identify neighborhood environment factors that predict health outcomes from large pools of exposure variables, and spatial interpolation methods to estimate neighborhood conditions across large geographic areas.

Summary. In each domain, we highlight successes and cautions in the application of machine learning, particularly highlighting legal issues in applying machine learning approaches to Google’s geo-spatial data.

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