Mapping our health

11 Jun 2014 4min read

The UK-based Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) has introduced an interactive map that presents population-wide data that has been collected over the last 25 years for 14 common health conditions in England and Wales.

Their website ( presents the data in a collection of interactive maps that highlight conditions ranging from COPD and heart disease, to the risk of developing a malignant melanoma or prostate cancer. This information is mapped alongside a number of environmental variations and potential contributing factors such as air pollution, hours of sunshine and pesticide use.

The results paint a fascinating picture. For example the risks associated with COPD are surprisingly lower in built-up London metropolitan areas than the surrounding suburbs, despite a clear drop in air pollution. This is contrasted by other areas of data which do highlight some expected assumptions, such as the correlation between hours of sunshine and the risk of developing a malignant melanoma, with the highest incidence being recorded in the South West of the UK, where sunshine hours are longest.


The collection of interactive maps enable individual users to search by gender and age and zoom right into their local area to identify potential health issues, risk factors and get more information on the conditions presented. The intention is not to worry or alarm the general public but instead simply to inform and raise awareness.

You could argue that the presentation of risk against a limited set of environmental factors paints an over-simplified picture not taking into account other important lifestyle factors, such as smoking or poor diet, and it cannot provide an individual with their absolute risk of developing a condition, or their prognosis following a diagnosis. However, this could be missing the point. It’s not hard to imagine policymakers at a wider regional or national level being able to quickly and easily identify trends and start to explore the influences and drivers behind them. It could have huge benefits in directing research and limited resources with targeted, relevant interventions to address the worst areas, while seeking to identify and learn from the best performing areas.

Despite its limitations what the team at SAHSU have achieved is quite remarkable; they have taken an enormous amount of relatively inaccessible data and by presenting it in a logical and engaging way have created a great resource for individuals, researchers and policymakers.

The current map should very-much be seen as a starting point, moving forwards it’s easy to envisage additional data sets being added or individual users being able to upload their own data in order to monitor and better understand potential health risks and ultimately act upon the information in a timely and effective manner.

Take a look at one of the interactive maps here.

Image source: The Environment and Health Atlas

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