GIS job – come and work with us

We have a great job going. It’s at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow. Your role will be within the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme . Your job will be to support the Programme Leader in developing research furthering our understanding of how social and physical environment might improve public health and reduce health inequalities. We’re looking for someone who can use GIS and write code. Specifically, you will be obtaining and preparing large spatial datasets, manipulating them in GIS, writing project specific code in a general purpose programming language, preferably Python or R, and carrying out research examining relationships between environment and population health. This job requires the ability to create and code innovative solutions to data handling and data analysis problems. Plenty of chances to contribute to publications and grant applications too. No need to have a PhD – we’re more interested in your skills…. 

More details, including how to apply, how much you could get paid etc here.

The closing date for applications is 22nd October.

Rich Mitchell would be delighted to discuss the post with you.

 

 Main Duties and Responsibilities

Perform the following activities in conjunction with and under the guidance of the Principal Investigator (PI):

1. Plan and conduct assigned research into environment and health, individually or jointly in accordance with the programme’s development strategy.

2. Contribute to the development and implementation of new methods and approaches to understanding how neighbourhood environments do, and might, affect health.

3. Develop, test and implement custom scripts/code to enable the handling and analysis of large spatial datasets.

4. Document research output including analysis and interpretation of all data, maintaining records and managing databases, drafting technical/progress reports and papers as appropriate.

5. Contribute to the organisation, supervision, mentoring and training of undergraduate and/or postgraduate students and less experienced members of staff of the project team to ensure their effective development.

6. Develop and enhance your research profile and reputation and that of The University of Glasgow, SPHSU and Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme, including contributing to publications of international quality in high profile/quality refereed journals, enhancing the research impact in terms of economic/societal benefit, and gathering indicators of esteem.

7. Contribute to the presentation of work at international and national conferences, at internal and external seminars, colloquia and workshops to develop and enhance our research profile.

8. Contribute to the identification of potential funding sources and assist in the development of proposals to secure funding from internal and external bodies to support future research.

9. Collaborate with colleagues and participate in team/group meetings/seminars/workshops across SPHSU/Institute of Health and Wellbeing/ University and wider community (e.g academic partners).

10. Perform administrative tasks related to the activities of the research group including budgets/expenditure.

11. Contribute to outreach activities of the University of Glasgow.

12. Carry out modest teaching activities (e.g demonstrating etc) and associated administration as assigned by the Directors of cognate Research Institutes and in consultation with Principal Investigators.

13. Keep up to date with current knowledge and recent advances in the field/discipline.

14. Engage in personal, professional and career development to enhance both specialist and transferable skills in accordance with desired career trajectory.

15. Undertake any other duties of equivalent standing as assigned by Directors of cognate Research Institutes and/or PIs.15. Contribute to the enhancement of the University’s International profile in line with the Strategic Plan, Glasgow 2020 – A Global Vision.

Salary Range£28,098 – £31,604 per annum

Does place matter during recovery from alcohol dependence?

In a new paper, published in Health and Place, Niamh Shortt, Sarah Rhynas and Aisha Holloway ask ‘Can the environment play a role in recovery?’ Here they discuss the findings from the paper.

Place matters for health. We know that features of the natural, built, and social environment can be either health promoting or health damaging.  From previous research we know that the environment is likely to be significant in shaping health-related behaviours, including alcohol consumption (here and here) and smoking patterns (here and here). In a new paper we have explored individuals’ experience and perceptions of the role of place in recovery from alcohol dependence. We wanted to gain a better understanding of the influence of the environment on the everyday experiences of those in recovery.

In order to do this we worked alongside a group of individuals who attend a recovery café in Central Scotland.  We used photovoice, a participatory research method that enabled the participants to capture images of their recovery. Individuals at various stages of recovery, but all at least one year sober, were able to document features of the environment that enable and/or hinder their journey.  Nine participants captured a total of 468 photographs. During focus group discussions participants identified features of the environment that were therapeutic and risky.

Therapeutic environments

Almost all of the participants made references to natural, wide-open spaces, such as hills, the sea, green spaces, in which they found calm and healing.  Participants associated such spaces with escape, meditation, clearing a busy mind, calm and support (Figure 1).

Figure 1: ‘I’ve took a, a picture at the top of the Braids. Eh, one that looks onto Arthur’s seat. Really green Arthur’s seat. And to the right a bit looks as far doon, I think you can see Bass Rock. Eh, and all that beauty and scenery and it’s on our doorstep. And I use it for a bit of my meditation and clearing my mind and that’.

therapeutic

Aside from vast open spaces, participants also found support in more everyday spaces, including the recovery café itself or in their homes. The café provides a space where the participants could see that they are ‘not the only one’, other café users understand their behaviour and the café itself was seen as a place of refuge following difficult moments.

Risky environments

All of the participants highlighted places of risk within their everyday environments, for most the single biggest element of risk was the retail environment, including both the sale and marketing of alcohol. For one participant the constant presence of alcohol was summed up with a photograph of the view from his window that included the local shop (Figure 2).

Figure 2: ‘it’s just there right on my doorstep and the first sign is beers and ciders’.

risky

The same participant noted that, before recovery, he was able to navigate the city to buy alcohol 24 hours a day, the challenge for him now is to try to avoid it in an environment where it is so readily available.  Participants spoke of the difficulty of avoiding such triggers in the everyday.

Further themes discussed in this paper include the transitory nature of place (places moving from supportive to risky and vice versa) and shame and stigma. This paper demonstrates that the journey of recovery from alcohol dependence is embedded in place, with place both supporting and hindering recovery.  The findings confirm that people in recovery experience a particular set of challenges on a day-to-day basis. Of particular note here was the ubiquitous sale of alcohol and presence of alcohol marketing and promotions.  By viewing recovery as a journey we can begin to frame alcohol dependence as a process of change; change in both the individual and in the way in which the individual sees and interacts with the environment. According to Banonis ‘recovering from addiction is a daily choice’ (Banonis 1989, p.37), however such choices are not made in a vacuum. This paper extends previous work by the CRESH team that argues that such health-related choices can be made more or less difficult by the environment in which one lives.

 

Edinburgh Science Festival Event 2017: Why Places Matter for Mental Health and Wellbeing

The important influence of the places in which we live, work and play on our mental health and wellbeing was the topic of a recent lively discussion at the Edinburgh Science Festival 2017 organized through Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH).

The event was chaired by Professor Jamie Pearce, (from School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh and CRESH) and, in his introduction, he emphasised the policy-relevance of the event as evidenced by  the Scottish Government’s newly released Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027. The Strategy details how institutions, services and organisations will work together to enhance mental health in Scotland. Especially relevant for this discussion was the acknowledgement on P8 of the report that ‘Working to improve mental health care is not just the preserve of the NHS or the health portfolio. We will be working not only across the Scottish Government, but also across the wider public services to harness the broadest range of opportunities to improve the population’s mental health…’.  It is therefore acknowledged that promoting good mental health and wellbeing is not only about medical care, but also involves action to improve the ‘wider determinants’ of mental health – especially how conditions in the places where we live, work, learn and play can affect mental health and wellbeing.

We were therefore interested to explore how academic research contributes to our understanding of how places affect wellbeing.  Our main aim was to exchange ideas with our audience of over 70 people, representing a range of views from those living in the communities in and around Edinburgh. Several participants also reported on knowledge and experience gained in their professional lives, including medical practitioners, public health specialists, leaders in independent organisations whose mission relates to mental health and wellbeing (such as Support in Mind, and the Cyrenians), urban planners and architects and social service providers.

The event started with a series of comments from a panel of academic researchers representing a variety of social science disciplines, who introduced ideas from academic research that may help to frame thinking on these issues.

Professor Sarah Curtis (Professor Emeritus at Durham University) used her own experience of volunteering in the Edible Garden project at the Botanic Gardens to illustrate ideas from Health Geography about Therapeutic Landscapes, originally put forward by Wil Gesler (e.g. in his book on Healing Places).  This conceptual framework suggests we can think of places in terms of: material and physical landscapes (agreeable and relaxing green spaces, water spaces and built environments), social landscapes (supportive social relationships and community processes) and symbolic landscapes (features of our environment that stand for beliefs, principles and memories that are important for us). All of these dimensions of places, experienced in the different settings where we spend our lives, can be important for creating and maintaining our sense of mental wellbeing.  These features of landscapes, the ways they change, and how different groups of people experience them over time, have been studied extensively by health geographers (e.g. reviewed by Sarah Curtis in her book Space, Place and Mental Health).

Professor Steve Platt (Professor Emeritus at University of Edinburgh) then presented ideas from research in Sociology and Health Policy about what we might consider the ‘reverse’ of therapeutic landscapes; focussing on factors that are associated with risk of suicide and why suicide matters for suicide prevention. He used the example of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which has been a ‘magnet’ for people intent on taking their own lives.  He described the public controversies surrounding action to alter the architectural form of the bridge in order to install protective structures to reduce the suicide risk. He also underlined the evidence for socio-economic deprivation as a risk factor for suicide, with the risk of suicide being 2-3 times higher in the local areas in Scotland ranked among the worst 10% for social deprivation, as compared with populations living in areas ranked in the least deprived areas. He went on to elaborate further on the idea of suicidogenic contexts combining various dimensions that may be cultural, socio-economic, political, historical, as well as including built infrastructures and other aspects of the physical environment.

The significance for wellbeing of green space, viewed from a Landscape Architecture perspective, was introduced by Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, Director of the OPENspace Centre at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Art. She underlined that, since stress is a major problem for society and is associated with physiological as well as mental illness, researchers at OPENspace, together with their colleagues from around the world, are exploring how attractive and accessible green spaces can have beneficial ‘restorative’ effects on our mental state and help us to cope better with stress.  Studies using biomarkers (that measure the functioning of psychoneuroendochrine systems in the human body) show that our mental and physical states are linked, which helps to explain why environments that help to restore mental wellbeing are also helpful for our physical health. Good access to green and natural spaces in the residential environment is associated with lower levels of stress as shown by these biomarkers, as well as from self-reports of stress among people out of work and living in urban poverty. Attractive green spaces are often also places where we enjoy supportive social relationships and healthy physical exercise.  Conversely, when there is a shortage of green space in the urban environment, this appears to be associated with feelings of loneliness and lack of social support. Professor Ward Thompson has published research exploring these relationships in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Findings such as these help to strengthen the case for providing and maintaining access to healthy green spaces, such as public parks and gardens, allotments, and public rights of way in the countryside.

Dr Niamh Shortt (School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh) leads research at CRESH relating to how aspects of consumption and retail environments are significant for behaviours linked to mental health and wellbeing. She focused her talk especially on issues associated with alcohol consumption and unhealthy drinking, which can be closely linked to mental distress and mental health conditions. While lower income groups report consuming the same, or less, alcohol on average than higher income groups, they suffer more from alcohol related harm. This has been called the ‘Alcohol Harm Paradox’. Dr Shortt presented findings from research she is leading which show that risks of unhealthy alcohol use are not only associated with individual level characteristics, but can also be influenced by the social and commercial environment.   Access to and advertising of retail outlets selling alcohol is not currently controlled to the same extent as for tobacco sales, yet research is showing that there the ways people drink may be influenced by the organization and availability of alcohol retailing in their neighbourhood, and that this is especially important for those living in poorer areas who may be most reliant on their local retail facilities. This research demonstrates the importance for wellbeing of work of retail planning and licensing systems.

As the discussion widened to include the audience at this event, a number of other thoughtful and important points were made. We heard from a number of representatives of relevant non-academic organizations, explaining how actions to promote mental wellbeing and to prevent and treat mental illness may draw upon research, and also contributes to knowledge about ‘what works’ to promote wellbeing.

Dr Margaret Douglas, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for NHS Lothian, underlined concerns about the unequal impacts of places on both health for different groups in Scottish society. She highlighted links between physical and mental health. The geographical variations in mental health and wellbeing, and inequalities between rich and poor areas, are a major issue for public health in Scotland, as in other countries, so research is important to help to identify the places where health disadvantage is most concentrated and needs for mental health care are greatest. This said, not all of the people most at risk of poor mental wellbeing and mental illness live in the poorest areas, so that there is also a need for information on the social and geographical pattern of mental health problems across the whole of Scotland. Dr Douglas particularly noted the range of aspects of the environment that are important for health. Her comments drew attention to the range of partners who need to collaborate to address actions to improve the various environmental factors that are beneficial for wellbeing and can help to prevent mental health problems. The Scottish Health and Inequalities Impact Assessment Network has produced documents summarising evidence on several aspects of the environment including community venues, greenspace, transport and housing.

These comments were reinforced by Johnny Cadell, from Architecture and Design Scotland, who underlined the significance of Scottish Government architecture policy (Creating Places), Scottish Planning Policy and the Place Standard, which promote healthy environments across Scotland. The Place Standard is a joint initiative between Scottish Government, Health Scotland and Architecture & Design Scotland. The discussion highlighted the strong interest in how good urban design can benefit mental health. We noted that there is very good potential for the transfer of knowledge from research into policy and practice, and this is gaining momentum through collaboration between researchers and government agencies promoting various initiatives, such as work by the Design Council entitled ‘Active by Design’ and, in Scotland, initiatives such as ‘Good Places Better Health’, ‘Go Well in Glasgow’ and, most recently, the development of the ‘Place Standard Tool’ to guide local development. Increasingly, Health Impact Assessment is being applied to interventions outside the medical sector, to ensure that health impacts of new urban developments are considered at the planning stage. The Place Standard brings together commitments in architecture policy (Creating Places) to produce a tool linking spatial design with the health/wellbeing agenda and the commitment in Good Places Better Health to produce a ‘Neighbourhood Quality Standard’.  Those involved in Good Places Better Health and Go Well were closely involved in the design of the new tool.

Frances Simpson, from Support in Mind, helpfully drew attention to the fact that a good deal of research is currently focussed on more urban communities, but that it is also important to understand the experience of the rural communities in Scotland.  Among a range of activities promoted by Support in Mind is a project that is currently collecting valuable information on what it is like living with mental ill-health in rural Scotland.  Communities in rural areas may benefit from greater proximity to extensive green spaces than those living in cities, but there are other issues such as social isolation and exclusion, and problems of access to the right kinds of mental health services, which need to be considered in rural settings. These points resonate with an article recently published by Hester Parr and Chris Philo in The Geographer magazine reporting research involving participants in rural areas.

Hugo Whitaker, from the charitable organization Cyrenians, also pointed out that recovering from mental illness can be a long process and that access to supportive environments over time can be very helpful to restoring mental wellbeing. He provided examples (including 2 film clips) of how community gardens and healthy activities organised in grounds that are part of NHS estates can help to restore and maintain good health.

A number of useful film clips have also been published by the Green Exercise Partnership  to help spread the word about this kind of activity (see example film here), as well as recordings of individual accounts from the perspective of those involved in design and planning (here) and stories of patient users’ experiences: (here).

Also relevant to this debate is the Our Natural Health Service action programme. It shows how “high quality local greenspace, supportive nature-based projects, and better links between health and social care practitioners and the environment sector, can be part of the solution to many of Scotland’s health issues.” NHS Lothians’s report ‘Health Promoting Health Service: Action in Secondary Care Settings’ issued by the Chief Medical Officer in October 2015 includes targets on “current use and improved plans of the outdoor estate for physical activity (green exercise and active travel) for staff, patients and the local community” as well as targets for staff health and wellbeing.

The debate included further comments from a number of other members of the audience. Points made by the panel about long term effects were picked up on by a retired General Practitioner who practised in one of the most deprived areas in Scotland. He commented that deprivation was transmitted across generations and that the conditions causing mental health problems in one generation would resurface in the next generation who were also treated in his surgery. Research reporting on the environmental experiences of people at different life stages was considered. For example, experiences of adolescents were commented on and it was pointed out that mental health problems can become apparent relatively early in life, and that young people have relatively little control over the social and physical environment, so it is important for their voices to be heard in environmental planning processes. Aspects of the environment that are beneficial for wellbeing of young people vary from those which are important for adults, so their experience needs to be taken into consideration.

Individuals with different characteristics may react quite variably a given environment and research can help to improve understanding of how places interacting with personal characteristics relate to mental wellbeing. It was noted, for example, that people vary in terms of cognitive and physical abilities and that making public spaces well adapted and inclusive for people with a range of abilities can help to promote mental wellbeing for all ability groups.

Other comments underlined the importance of a sense of autonomy and freedom to exercise independence and choice in the way we interact with our environment. It was noted that it was not only the visual aspect of the environment that was important, and that it was important for architects and others designing the environment to be sensitive to aspects such as noise levels and ambient temperature which can also affect one’s sense of wellbeing in a particular setting.

Overall, this event clearly demonstrated the breadth of interest in the question of why places matter for mental health and wellbeing. The panel were very grateful to the audience for engaging in the discussion and making such thoughtful comments and to SciFest for organizing the event. We felt this was a good example of how academic researchers and others with relevant ideas and experiences can join together to ‘co-produce’ our understanding of the research agenda and how research can help to inform action. We hope to be able to keep in touch with participants, via the CRESH webpages and blog, in order to share future research findings and knowledge of what is important for our wellbeing in the places where we live.

Two PhD Studentships in Environment & Health – available now

We are looking to recruit two fully funded PhD opportunities in the area of environments and health.  The studentships are funded as part of the UK Farr Institute for Health Informatics Research and both projects will be working at the forefront of health informatics and administrative data research in the UK working closely with colleagues in the Administrative Data Research Centre and the Farr Institute as well as research groups in the School of Geosciences including the Centre for Research on Environment Society and Health (CRESH) and the Population, Health and Place research group.

The successful candidate will have an undergraduate degree (at least 2:1) with a data analytical component from a discipline such as geography, medicine, public health, epidemiology, medical sociology. Experience of statistical data analytical techniques relevant to large-scale and complex social science or health datasets and relevant software packages (Stata, SPSS, SAS or R) is desirable. The precise design of both programmes of research will be developed jointly by the student and the project supervisors and progress towards completion of the PhD will be reviewed in accordance with established guidelines within the School of Geosciences. There is an expectation that the PhD students will contribute substantial independent thinking with regard to the research design, research questions, methodology and analysis throughout the studentship, including preparing and writing results into academic publications where relevant and will contribute actively within the wider research team.

The links below contain more details about both projects including application deadlines, contact details for informal enquiries and how to apply:

https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=87842

https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=88017

Why Places Matter for our Wellbeing

The following post is an interview with Professor Jamie Pearce and Professor Sarah Curtis about how our surroundings affect our health. It was originally posted in April 2017 in the build up to the Edinburgh Science Festival.

What might the audience expert to learn from this event?

While there are many things we can do as individuals to improve our health and wellbeing, action to create a healthier environment also requires community, societal and political responses. We will report on research that explores how and why the places where we live, work and play affect our mental health, and, with the help of the audience, identify some likely ways to make our environment healthier.

green_space_image

People might expect that being in pleasant surroundings can lift our moods, but please can you briefly outline how your research goes beyond this?

We know from lots of research over many years that the places in which we live, work and play can be both beneficial and detrimental to our health and mental wellbeing. Our research has shown that ‘therapeutic’ properties of places include high levels of community cohesion, availability and accessibility of high quality green spaces, and investment in infrastructure to support physical activity, such as cycle paths.

On the other hand, places can be damaging to our mental health if, for example, they are characterised by high levels of crime, pollution, poor physical conditions and a lack of secure and rewarding employment opportunities. Our research also explores how different groups vary in their response to their environment. For instance, the mental health benefits of living in a greener environment are greater for those who are relatively poor, as compared with for wealthier groups. This finding is important, since the Scottish Government and other policymakers need to know what works in terms of environmental planning to reduce health inequalities.

Why is now a good time to highlight the findings of your work?

Like many other countries, mental health in Scotland is a major public health challenge. We know that many mental health outcomes are significantly poorer in Scotland than they are in England. It is estimated that around one in three people are affected by mental illness in any one year. People in the most socially disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected. For example, our work has shown that adults living in the most deprived parts of Scotland are almost three times as likely to have common mental health problems as those in the least deprived areas.

It is no wonder that improving mental health is a priority for the Scottish Government and is one of 55 national indicators chosen to chart the country’s progress towards the achievement of our National Outcomes – wellbeing targets set by the Scottish Government.

Can you give one or two examples of how people might make simple changes to their surroundings to improve their wellbeing?

Our research has shown very clearly that so much to do with our health is outside of our personal control. To make substantial improvements to our health – including mental wellbeing – requires us to think and act collectively. As individuals, we can get involved in helping to make the places we live more supportive for mental health and wellbeing through getting involved in community initiatives, making therapeutic spaces more accessible, and ensuring our workplaces are supportive.

Can you highlight one or two outcomes from your research that have surprised you?

One of the most fascinating findings from our recent research is that the circumstances early in our lives can have lasting lifelong implications. For example, we have found that characteristics of the places we live during our childhood years can affect mental health and cognitive ageing much later in life. These findings change the way in which we think about the relationships between places and health; to date we have probably not appreciated quite how important places are for our health over our whole lives. It also means that changes we make to our environment now to make places better for mental health are likely to benefit the next generation as well as ourselves.

What is your motivation for bringing your research to the Science Festival?

We think that improving mental health is a major challenge for Scotland and other countries in the UK. To make substantial and sustained progress will require some joined-up thinking, which recognises that mental health is influenced by a range of social, political and environmental factors in our communities. Having conversations about these issues, and identifying possible solutions to such important challenges, is an important way of helping to make sure that important research findings are acted on.

To Understand Place, Sometimes You Need to Go Places

By Jon Olsen

I recently spent a week as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at the Built Environment and Health (BEH) research group at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

My visit was funded by the University of Glasgow’s Principal’s Early Career Mobility Scheme, a scheme which aims to give the opportunity for postdoctoral researchers to visit international institutions, providing the time and space to develop high-impact collaboration with staff there.

I organised the visit and developed a proposal on how I would spend my time at Columbia with Kathryn Neckerman, a senior research scientist at the Columbia Population Research Centre and co-director of BEH. Now I am back, it’s time to reflect.

Why is international research collaboration important?

Improving population health and well-being is a focus of Governments and health organisations globally and, while there is continued focus and resource, poor health and inequalities remain. This is partly because improving health and well-being, and reducing inequalities is complex and requires complex solutions. Professor David Hunter in an article in the Journal of Public Health describes improving health and well-being as a ‘wicked problem’. A ‘Wicked’ issue in the sense these problems “defy easy or single bullet solutions” and “have complex causes and require complex solutions”. Collaboration is vital to bring together ideas and resources to tackle complex problems.

An article on international research collaboration in Elsevier connect, following the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in Melbourne in 2015, stated that “researchers collaborate to share their knowledge and combine the perspectives they have to solve complex problems that are increasingly cross-disciplinary in nature”. It argued that international collaboration provides many benefits, including “enabling researchers in institutions to access resources beyond their own, especially funding, talent and equipment”.

Furthermore, the article suggested that regional universities could collaborate when research is centred on a common regional challenge. However, there are further opportunities for international collaboration and learning, such as where research themes and methodologies are overlapping. All this potential was in mind as I travelled to Columbia University and I was able to explore this through my visit to BEH. For me, the question was how could the similarities that exist in Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and in New York benefit research and help further understand complex problems.

Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and New York

The BEH research group has an interdisciplinary programme of research which uses spatial data to examine the impact of the built environment (including land use, public transit, and housing) on physical activity, diet, obesity, and other aspects of health. The group’s research themes have many parallels to ours in the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), University of Glasgow, and at the Centre for Research on the Environment, Society and Health (CRESH). We all seek to understand how neighbourhood environments impact upon health outcomes and health inequalities.

For example, researchers at SPHSU and CRESH have recently described an association between alcohol and tobacco outlet density across Scotland and area level deprivation such that the poorest neighbourhoods had the highest densities of outlet. However, this is a complex issue as highlighted by a Glasgow based study conducted at SPHSU, ‘The socio-spatial distribution of alcohol outlets in Glasgow city’, which did not find the same association. My colleague Laura Macdonald’s recent paper described that perceptions of being well-placed for amenities and the presence of amenities in the local neighbourhood were not necessarily correlated.

In New York, BEH group have recently developed a tool that allows the automated auditing of neighbourhood environments using Google Street View. This project developed a system called the ‘Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System’ (CANVAS), to conduct Street View based audits of neighbourhoods. The software developed can be used for neighbourhood audits conducted at a desktop computer for a much lower cost than sending out trained auditors to survey the neighbourhood.

CANVAS creates opportunities a richer understanding of neighbourhood environments than using only the geographical location of amenities or outlets. This could include an understanding of visual stimuli in the neighbourhood on individual behavioural choices, such as advertising of health/fast foods, whether amenities and outlets are visible to individuals travelling along streets, and changes in this over time. Approaches like CANVAS could bring advances in our field which often currently assumes that proximity to facilities is the primary mediator in access. As our research has shown, perception and presence of amenities are not necessarily correlated.

Our programme has recently completed data collection for the Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments across Scotland (SPACES) study. The SPACES study is the first national representative study in Scotland to collect both Global Positioning System (GPS) and accelerometer (i.e. movement) data of over 800 children, 10-11 years old. Indeed, a study I am currently leading utilises the SPACES dataset to describe children’s patterns of movement within the landscape and how this may be affected by the surrounding neighbourhoods in terms of its makeup, size, shape and proximity to each other. Paul McCrorie and colleagues’ review the use of such devices to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people highlighted that describing people’s movement in time and space is a field which is advancing rapidly, driven by the advancements in wearable technologies that collect GPS data. But this also means that it’s imperative we understand and develop the methodological options for analysing the gathered data to ensure robust and generalizable conclusions.

The Potential of Collaboration

Spending time with BEH, I could more readily see that the two programmes share a clear focus to establish a grounded and robust methodological framework for describing patterns of movement and environmental exposures in neighbourhoods.

It was this first-hand opportunity to share learning both from the analysis of our studies and our approaches which can, I believe, lead to better collaboration. Modern technology is great for communication, but direct dialogue and the time and space to be with potential colleagues in their environment can perhaps offer richer experience than a scheduled video-conference or a meeting of minds at a conference, (valuable as those are).

For example, last year the BEH group published a study using GPS data to study neighborhood walkability and physical activity’ in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. This measured the size and characteristics of residential neighbourhood areas utilised, and those not utilised, by people in New York City. I was able to discuss this with the lead author, Andrew Rundle, who is also co-director of BEH, during my visit and the strengths and limitations of different geospatial analytical and statistical techniques for neighbourhood GPS studies, which I also picked up with Stephen Mooney while I was there.

I am now continuing to explore ideas around methodological development and carrying on these discussions. International travel schemes are invaluable. It is important to step outside of your own research group to gain a wider academic perspective of world-leading research. Although my visit to BEH was not about collaboraton in the sense of producing a research paper or grant, it allowed us to share practice, knowledge and ideas.

Of course, embracing an international spirit also means following the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy, so before I left, as a keen runner, I also made time to tread some miles amongst the amazing New York scenery. And as a geographer interested in spatial epidemiology, and like other geographers, I track all my runs using GPS! I have included the routes for those who might want to check them out: Two Bridges, Lower Manhattan to Battery Park, and a foggy 5k across the Manhattan Bridge.

 

 

Being a Scout or Guide protects mental health and narrows inequalities in later life

By Rich Mitchell and Chris Dibben

beaver-scouts-plant-trees-for-their-gardener-badge-pic-credit-the-scout-association
Today, with colleagues from the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland at Edinburgh University, we have published a study
which found that being in the Guides or Scouts as a child seems to protect your mental health long into adulthood. Those who were in the Guides or Scouts were about 18% less likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder at age 50, than those who were not. This protective link seems especially strong for children who grew up in less advantaged households, so much so that the usual ‘gap’ in mental health between those from richer and poorer backgrounds does not exist among those who were Scouts or Guides. Continue reading Being a Scout or Guide protects mental health and narrows inequalities in later life