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Online atlas shows health risks of individual communities

By typing in postcode people can see an area’s relative risk of 14 conditions

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 25 April 2014

The relative likelihood of someone living in a particular community developing a condition such as heart disease or lung cancer can now be seen using an online map.

The Environment and Health Atlas is an online map of England and Wales which presents a community's risk of developing 14 conditions relative to the average risk for England and Wales. By inputting a postcode into the online version of the Atlas, users can zoom into a neighbourhood (around 6,000 people) and toggle between the health and environment maps for that local area.

Risks of the following cancers are given by the Atlas - lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, malignant melanoma, bladder cancer, leukaemia, brain cancer, mesothelioma, and liver cancer. Other diseases and conditions covered by the map include ischaemic heart disease mortality, obstructive lung disease mortality, kidney disease mortality, and reproductive outcomes (still birth and low birth weight).

Across all health conditions, areas that appear to have the lowest relative risk are in central London, North Norfolk, parts of Suffolk, and Brighton and Hove. The areas with the higher relative risk tend to be in the North West, parts of Yorkshire and South Wales.

Some conditions show a lot of geographical variation that can’t be explained by deprivation or ageing. Risks for respiratory problems, such as lung cancer and chronic pulmonary disease are worse in urban areas. Risks of heart disease mortality are predominantly higher in the north of the country. However, the relative risks of breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukaemia, brain cancer, still births and low birth weight are more similar across Wales and England.

The Atlas and has been produced by researchers at the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London.

Lead researcher Dr Anna Hansell from the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London said: “The Atlas is a fantastic tool for researchers, policy makers and the public,” said lead author “It is the first publication in the UK to amalgamate data at this level of resolution on health and environment. It connects people to health and environment at a neighbourhood level and provides resources to learn about these issues. It also allows us to identify the important questions that need answering about patterns of health and environment risk for future avenues of research."

The researchers used data from the Office for National Statistics and from cancer registries for 1985 to 2009 and mapped them alongside region-by-region variations in environmental factors such as air pollution, sunshine and pesticides. The data were also adjusted for age, deprivation and to take into account small numbers, and there are different maps for men and for women.

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