Geospatial methods are increasingly used to evaluate environmental exposures in epidemiologic studies. Geospatial data are often acquired from different sources and time periods and at different spatial resolutions. This dissertation presents methods for combining datasets that do not overlap in space and, or time and are essential for the accurate quantification of metrics used in Environmental Health Sciences. In three chapters, we demonstrated and compared advances in small-area geospatial methods used to reduce misalignment and misclassification of key variables (e.g., exposure).
First, we showed how small-area analyses of COVID-19 can benefit from spatial aggregation to account for areal misalignment. In an analysis of the association between air pollution levels and COVID-19 incidence and mortality, we used residential building footprints to combine misaligned COVID-19 outcomes recorded at the neighborhood level, population demographics recorded at the census-tract level, and NO2 interpolated surfaces recorded at 30-meter grids. We found NO2 to be positively associated with COVID-19 incidence and mortality for neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Second, we used data acquired through the PASTA-LA study to attribute daily green space exposure for physically-active spaces (PASs) where activity, location, and green space data were misaligned. We used tracking data from accelerometers and smartphones to attribute green-space exposure using 21 geospatial methods. We found that exposures attributed to home-address buffers, a commonly used method, can result in exposure misclassification. We also found a large range in correlation depending on tracking device used and the way physical activity was categorized across the 21 methods, suggesting that the method selected is key to the findings.
Finally, third, also using PASTA-LA data, we studied the association between heat exposure and physical activity in which temperature, green space, and participant-level covariates were misaligned. We showed that heat exposure was associated with increased physical activity and that exposure to green space modified this association in only some models. In this chapter, and in all chapters of this dissertation, we demonstrated how choice in geospatial approach to spatiotemporal misalignment can yield different study results.