The Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP) in the Relationship between Exposure to NO2 and Respiratory Health

The Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP) in the Relationship between Exposure to NO2 and Respiratory Health

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Title: The Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP) in the Relationship between Exposure to NO2 and Respiratory Health
Author: Parenteau, Marie-Pierre; Sawada, Michael
Abstract: Background - Many Canadian population health studies, including those focusing on the relationship between exposure to air pollution and health, have operationalized neighbourhoods at the census tract scale. At the same time, the conceptualization of place at the local scale is one of the weakest theoretical aspects in health geography. The modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) raises issues when census tracts are used as neighbourhood proxies,and no other alternate spatial structure is used for sensitivity analysis. In the literature, conclusions on the relationship between NO2 and health outcomes are divided, and this situation may in part be due to the selection of an inappropriate spatial structure for analysis. Here, we undertake an analysis of NO2 and respiratory health in Ottawa, Canada using three different spatial structures in order to elucidate the effects that the spatial unit of analysis can have on analytical results. // Results - Using three different spatial structures to examine and quantify the relationship between NO2 and respiratory morbidity, we offer three main conclusions: 1) exploratory spatial analytical methods can serve as an indication of the potential effect of the MAUP; 2) OLS regression results differ significantly using different spatial representations, and this could be a contributing factor to the lack of consensus in studies that focus on the relation between NO2 and respiratory health at the area-level; and 3) the use of three spatial representations confirms no measured effect of NO2 exposure on respiratory health in Ottawa. // Conclusions - Area units used in population health studies should be delineated so as to represent the a priori scale of the expected scale interaction between neighbourhood processes and health. A thorough understanding of the role of the MAUP in the study of the relationship between NO2 and respiratory health is necessary for research into disease pathways based on statistical models, and for decision-makers to assess the scale at which interventions will have maximum benefit. In general, more research on the role of spatial representation in health studies is needed.
Date: 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/22738

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