Special Issue Publication
Special Issue: Spatial Analysis/Geographic Information System (GIS) in Epidemiology


The incorporation of geographically referenced data and use of GIS and spatial analysis in the conduct of epidemiologic research has increased dramatically over the past several decades. Three recent trends further fuel this growth. First, the increasing volume of publicly available small-area, geographically referenced data about the physical, social, built, and service environments of communities mean there are new ‘exposures’ available for epidemiologic consideration on a nearly daily basis. Second, continuous and rapid advances in geo-informatics and statistical tools mean that epidemiologists have an ever-increasing array of sophisticated methods on which to draw. Third, emerging conceptual frameworks for epidemiologic research rely explicitly on hierarchical and multi-level modeling approaches that require covariates measured and modeled at several spatial scales.

However, one challenge in the face of rapidly growing volume data and toolbox of statistical methods is thoughtful grounding of plausible relationships between place and population health in theoretically and conceptually sound terms. In other words, how can the applied epidemiologist leverage new data and tools in ways that build the evidence base, fill gaps in knowledge or understanding, and improve the potential for the translation of data to action? For example, measures of populations’ experience of ‘environmental’ attributes such as access to health care, social determinants of health, or the built environment are frequently used. But in many instances multiple (often conflicting) measures of these attributes exist begging the question of which are quantitatively most effective (e.g. in terms of precision, accuracy, or reliability) and which are qualitatively most informative (e.g. in terms of grounded in plausible theory, and validly representing the target process or construct)?

This call for papers for a special issue welcomes papers that address:

  • Developing and evaluating novel methods for using spatial analysis or geographical linkage to measure health-relevant population exposures and outcomes;
  • Comparing competing geospatial measures of a common construct to understand performance in relation to population health outcomes;
  • Applications of epidemiologic research using geospatial data or methods which exemplify close integration of theory, spatial and non-spatial methods, and inference.

Example topics (not exhaustive, just illustrative):

  • What is ‘access to care’ in rural and urban environments and what metrics best capture access?
  • How are distinct measures or metrics of the social or built environment (e.g. food deserts, residential segregation, or neighborhood deprivation) different from one another and what is the sensitivity of choice of measure for quantification of association with health outcomes?  
  • Do alternate methods of operationalization of measures of the social and built environment influence observed associations with social, behavioral or health outcomes?
  • How should populations be defined geographically (i.e., administrative boundaries, empirically derived units based on population size, travel patterns or service utilization), and how does the epidemiologist’s choice of definition impact resulting associations with health outcomes?
  • How to integrate geographic data across multiple sectors (i.e., health, education, transportation, policy, public utilities, housing) to construct comprehensive indices reflecting social determinants of health, and their association with population health outcomes?
  • How can epidemiologists make the most appropriate decisions concerning issues that frequently arise in spatial modeling of health outcomes (including but not limited to underlying distribution, scale issues, variable selection, model selection, criteria for evaluating model fit)?

Abstracts for this special issue should be submitted no later than September 1, 2020. Abstracts will be reviewed by the journal’s Associate Editors. Authors will be invited to submit original manuscripts if the abstract is deemed appropriate for the issue. Manuscripts will be peer-reviewed by at least two external reviewers within 8 weeks. Submission of the abstract and full manuscript does not guarantee acceptance and publication. Annals of Epidemiology aims to have the special issue published in winter 2020.

Submit your abstract in electronic format on the journal’s submission portal according to the following format:

  • Title
  • Purpose
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Conclusions

Abstracts are restricted to a 250-word count.

Be sure to choose article type: SI: Spatial Analysis.

Send any questions about your submission to Annals of Epidemiology Managing Editor, Cory Woodyatt at [email protected]


Annals of Epidemiology is the official journal of the American College of Epidemiology, published monthly. 

Annals of Epidemiology is a peer-reviewed, international journal devoted to epidemiologic research and methodological development. The journal emphasizes the application of epidemiologic methods to issues that affect the distribution and determinants of human illness in diverse contexts. Its primary focus is on chronic and acute conditions of diverse etiologies and of major importance to clinical medicine, public health, and health care delivery. In addition, the policies, practice, ethics and education of epidemiology and public health are themes of great importance. The translation of epidemiology into policy is at the core of the missions of Annals of Epidemiology and the American College of Epidemiology.

Annals encourages the use of epidemiology in a multidisciplinary approach to understanding disease etiology. Annals publishes original articles, reviews, reports from U.S. federal and international sources, editorials, commentaries, brief communications, letters to the editor, book reviews, as well as topical symposia. 

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