Using Google Earth as an Innovative Tool for Community Mapping


We wanted to share an article we just published in Public Health Reports on using Google Earth for community mapping. We have found Google Earth a very useful tool that allows non-experts to make maps illustrating the community context for health problems. This post contains two of the maps created by our residents and medical students.

Using Google Earth as an Innovative Tool for Community Mapping


Maps are used to track diseases and illustrate the social context of health problems. However, commercial mapping software requires special training. This article illustrates how nonspecialists used Google EarthTM, a free program, to create community maps. The Bronx, New York, is characterized by high levels of obesity and diabetes. Residents and medical students measured the variety and quality of food and exercise sources around a residency training clinic and a student-run free clinic, using Google Earth to create maps with minimal assistance. Locations were identified using street addresses or simply by pointing to them on a map. Maps can be shared via e-mail, viewed online with Google Earth or Google Maps, and the data can be incorporated into other mapping software.

Authors: Theodore B. Lefer, Matthew R. Anderson, Alice Fornari, Anastasia Lambert, Jason Fletcher and Maria Baquero

Source: Public Health Reports, July-August 2008, 123: 474-480, Available at

Sources of Food and Exercise around the Montefiore Comprehensive Health Care Center; Legend: Red cross = Comprehensive Health Care Center; Grocery cart = Grocery Store (n =10); Fork and Knife = Restaurants (n=16); Red dot = Fast Food outlet (n=32); Yellow dot = Bodegas (small variety stores, n=44); Green tree = Exercise site (n=11). Note the old Yankee stadium on the lower left of the map.

Food stores around ECHO Free Clinic, ranked by variety and quality of produce for sale; Legend: Red Cross = ECHO Free Clinic; Small red icon of shopping cart = “no variety” (n=33) ; Yellow cart = “Poor variety” (n=67); Blue cart = “Limited variety” (n=50); Darker green cart = “Better variety” (n=11); Larger, lighter green cart = “Good variety” (n=15) ; Blue -shaded area = Study area

If you are interested, you can also download the original KMZ file.

posted by: Matt Anderson

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5 Responses to “Using Google Earth as an Innovative Tool for Community Mapping”

  1. 1Ryan

    I honestly would never have thought of that. It brings to mind numerous uses for mapping. Social and otherwise. By the way, nice blog for a much needed point of veiw.

  2. 2Roma Guy

    Great site for teaching basics on community health and community health assessments.

  3. 3bronxdoc

    The technical aspects of creating Google maps are fairly easy to master. The free version is a clearly designed for people who are not technically sophisticated. Our article includes step-by-step instructions but Google provides good resources on their website.

    We felt that Google Earth would be a perfect tool for a small community organization that did not have strong technical capacity.

  4. 4Ron Carlson

    Would like to learn more – how is this well suited for non-profit organizations that lack strong technical capacity?

  5. 5Roma Guy

    Useful for high school and undergraduate class projects.

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