Availability, access, analysis and dissemination of small-area data

Susan Hodgson*, Daniela Fecht, John Gulliver, Hima Iyathooray Daby, Frédéric B. Piel, Fuyuen Yip, Heather Strosnider, Anna Hansell, Paul Elliott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In this era of 'big data', there is growing recognition of the value of environmental, health, social and demographic data for research. Open government data initiatives are growing in number and in terms of content. Remote sensing data are finding widespread use in environmental research, including in low- and middle-income settings. While our ability to study environment and health associations across countries and continents grows, data protection rules and greater patient control over the use of their data present new challenges to using health data in research. Innovative tools that circumvent the need for the physical sharing of data by supporting non-disclosive sharing of information, or that permit spatial analysis without researchers needing access to underlying patient data can be used to support analyses while protecting data confidentiality. User-friendly visualizations, allowing small-area data to be seen and understood by non-expert audiences, are revolutionizing public and researcher interactions with data. The UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit's Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales, and the US National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network offer good examples. Open data facilitates user-generated outputs, and 'mash-ups', and user-generated inputs from social media, mobile devices and wearable tech are new data streams that will find utility in future studies, and bring novel dimensions with respect to ethical use of small-area data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)I4-I14
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work of the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit is funded by Public Health England as part of the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, funded also by the UK Medical Research Council.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.


  • environment and health
  • open data
  • remote sensing
  • Small-area studies


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