The launch of the interactive mapping website, which curates publicly available data at the census tract level, provides an added resource to California-based researchers amidst the COVID pandemic.

The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine Dean’s Office of Population Health and Health Equity announced the launch of the new website earlier this month. The UCSF Health Atlas was created to encourage researchers to explore the factors that can impact health on a population level, said Debby Oh, Health Atlas project lead and epidemiologist in the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, in the announcement.

“We wanted to provide beautiful maps, well-informed and well-written content, the ability to pool geographies, a comparison of variables, and downloadable data.”

The website development began nine months ago with the intent to encourage UCSF researchers to explore neighborhood-level characteristics and evaluate how they relate. However, the recent health crisis added a level of urgency to the project as the development team realized the additional insight it could lend to researchers throughout the global pandemic, such as daily updates on COVID-19 cases and deaths in California.

The Health Atlas uses publicly available data, from sources such as the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau and the 500 Cities Project from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the census tract and county level for over 100 related characteristics across California for a local perspective of social determinants of health (SDoH) and other relevant health outcomes. Some of the current features involving SDoH include data-driven stories on COVID-19 and its link to SDoH in California, food security, housing insecurity, and cancer in Latinx enclaves.

The tool allows users to select and view characteristics, create custom areas to learn about specific geographies of interest, or explore and compare multiple scenarios at once. Data distribution is available through the map, histograms, and scatterplot, all of which can be downloaded. Data sources and evidence-based explanations are also available for each feature.

"In the wake of COVID pandemic, the population health perspective is more important than ever," said Courtney Lyles, co-principal investigator of the UCSF Population Health Data Initiative and associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Biostatistics. "We hope this public resource will be useful to UCSF researchers and the broader community to explore the role of place on health outcomes."