Modern health mapping shows how poverty and ill health persist over 100 years

February 16, 2012

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London are aiming to improve the health of Londoners by combining a century-old mapping technique with up-to-the-minute technology.

Using as their example, the researchers have compiled detailed maps of east London highlighting the geographical ‘hotspots’ of disease risk.

The maps, which are published today in BMJ Open reveal startling similarities to the renowned ‘poverty maps’ created in the late 19th Century by Victorian reformist, Charles Booth.

The researchers chose to study type 2 diabetes risk because it has well-known risk factors and is preventable. It is strongly associated with poverty and South Asian ethnicity, both of which are common in east London today.

The aim of the project is to help local authority and NHS services to tackle poor health by directing efforts where they are most needed. Although the study examined the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham, the researchers say that the same technique could be applied anywhere in the country, and to other diseases.

Unlike the Booth maps which were based on observation, the new study uses an entire set of electronic records from GP surgeries in the area. This very precise information means that the maps are much more accurate and will be useful to individual GP surgeries.

Electronic records from over half a million people were included in the research. Each was assessed for risk of developing diabetes using a well-established prediction tool, the QDScore. 

People were categorised as ‘high-risk’ if they were found to have a one in five or greater risk of developing diabetes within ten years.

Overall around ten per cent of the adult population fell into the high-risk category. However the maps showed ‘hotspots’ where up to 17 per cent were at high risk. Further analysis showed that these hotspots were associated with areas of poverty. 

These hotspots were surprisingly similar to areas of poverty highlighted in Booth’s maps from over 100 years ago.

The study was led by Douglas Noble, a Doctor and Lecturer at Queen Mary, and published in BMJ Open with additional material in a full report aimed at the NHS and Public Health specialists. 

Dr Noble said: “It was no surprise to see that diabetes risk is high in areas where poverty was high. What was surprising was that some of these pockets of deprivation and ill-health have persisted for over 100 years. 

“But unlike in Booth’s time, we now know how diseases like diabetes can be prevented. Using electronic records to create maps like these throughout the country could improve health and save money for the NHS.

“When you think of what life was like in the East End in the late 1800s it’s extraordinary what the NHS and public health professionals have achieved, often with limited resources.  But there’s more still to do, and we hope this detailed information will help to reduce risk of diseases like diabetes”

The research also looked at known risk factors and could show where a lack of green space or a proliferation of fast food outlets could be contributing to ill-health.

Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Health Care at Queen Mary, University of London, also worked on the report. She said: “Health mapping has enormous potential for the NHS, especially with a disease like type 2 which we know can be prevented by keeping a healthy weight and staying active.

“This study, which concentrates on three of the ‘Olympic boroughs’, highlights the dire need for a major and lasting Olympic legacy to improve health and longevity in east London.”

Steven Cummins Professor of Urban Health at Queen Mary’s School of Geography commented: "Population health has vastly improved over the last 100 years. However, as these maps starkly illustrate, a century of social, economic and physical change has failed to eliminate underlying geographical inequalities in disease in east London."

This work was funded by Tower Hamlets, Newham, and City and Hackney primary care trusts and by the National Institute for Research. The National Information Governance Board advised on data protection issues. 

Explore further: Tools for predicting diabetes exist but are not used, research shows

Related Stories

Tools for predicting diabetes exist but are not used, research shows

November 29, 2011
New research from Queen Mary, University of London suggests that many cases of diabetes could be prevented by making use of existing prediction tools.

Diabetes linked to higher rate of birth defects

February 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Pregnant women with diabetes are almost four times more likely to have a baby with a birth defect than women without the condition and the likelihood is linked to the mother's glucose level, according ...

New videos, website offer important resources for people affected by diabetes

June 22, 2011
 New videos to help people make lifestyle changes and cope with the demands of diabetes were announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). The series ...

Cigarettes, diet, alcohol and obesity behind more than 100,000 cancers

December 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- More than 100,000 cancers – equivalent to one third of all those diagnosed in the UK each year – are being caused by smoking, unhealthy diets, alcohol and excess weight, according to new research ...

Research indicates obesity and diabetes risk is determined in the womb

November 10, 2011
New research from Warwick Medical School indicates some of your risk of developing obesity, diabetes and heart conditions is pre-determined whilst in the womb and by improving the pregnant mother’s diet and vitamins ...

Childhood illness linked to less career success

August 4, 2011
Child illness is closely linked to your future health and career prospects, a new study suggests. Researchers, funded partly by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), found that people ...

Recommended for you

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.