Washington University in St. Louis

GIS: Geographic Information Systems



(NICHD 3 R01 HD036904-07S1)

Sept 2010-Aug 2012

The prevalence of childhood overweight (CO) has tripled in recent decades and there is growing recognition of environmental factors related to the rapid increase of this significant public health problem. Socio-ecological models provide a strong theoretical framework for studying the interplay between an individual’s weight-related behaviors and his or her environment. Data linking built environments to eating and physical activity habits underscore the potential importance of carefully assessing neighborhood-level variables in weight loss clinical trials. However, few studies have examined whether neighborhood environmental characteristics differentially impact an individual’s attempt to modify physical activity and eating behaviors. Spatial databases and Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies provide a means for objectively assessing environmental factors that may moderate weight loss maintenance treatment response.

Children playing on a playground

The COMPASS-GIS study is an ancillary study to the COMPASS study, which is designed to test the efficacy of an enhanced social facilitation maintenance treatment (SFM+) for overweight children (aged 7-11) and their families in St. Louis, MO and Seattle, WA. The COMPASS-GIS project includes a transdisciplinary team of scientists from basic behavioral, public health, and urban design to test the exploratory hypothesis that children’s built environment will be a moderator of weight loss maintenance treatment. Features of the built environment being examined include those related to walkability (street connectivity, density, land use), access to recreation facilities (parks, public and private facilities), and the food environment (grocery stores and fast food). This study promises to not only clarify the most efficacious overall treatment choice for CO, but also to identify subgroups for whom specific treatments are indicated, and to inform public health approaches to the long-term management of CO.

Principal Investigator:
Denise Wilfley, PhD; Professor of Psychiatry, WUSM


Christine Hoehner, PhD, MSPH; Assistant Professor, Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, WUSM
Anne Vernez Moudon, Dr. es Sc. Professor of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington

Aaron Hipp, Phd: Assistant Professor of Social Work, WUSTL
Bill Winston, University GIS Analyst
Phil Hurvitz, PhD, University of Washington

Children playing in a fountain

Optimal spatial management of an invasive plant

Tiffany Knight and Eleanor Pardini
Department of Biology

Invasive species are one of the most important environmental threats to ecosystems and eradication or containment of invasive populations is a top priority for land managers. Managers are limited by financial resources, and thus quantifying how to optimally spend those resources on invasion control is important. The distribution of most invasive plant populations does not resemble a single, expanding patch, but rather one or more large core patches and several small satellite patches that result from long-distance seed dispersal. Our research addresses the question of where in space to target management: will prioritizing the core or satellite patches best eliminate or reduce the distribution of an invasive plant? Managers may choose to prioritize core patches where seed production and environmental damage are high, and where managers can kill many plants per hour. Alternatively, managers may choose to focus efforts on satellite patches that might contribute disproportionately to the overall invasion at the landscape scale, but at the cost of killing fewer plants per hour due to the search time required to locate patches.

Map of Darst Bottoms Conservation Area Map of Tyson Research Center
Management at Darst Bottoms Conservation Area (core) and Tyson Research Center (satellite). Maps created by EA Pardini in August 2008.

We are using experiments and GIS analyses to address the question of where in space to optimally target management of the invasive plant, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Garlic mustard is a biennial plant with invasions that typically follow the core and satellite patch pattern. Survival and fertility are density-dependent in this species, so satellite patches, where density is low and survival and seed production are high, contribute heavily to spread. We experimentally managed six garlic mustard infestations by pulling adult plants at sites in the greater St. Louis, MO region and used GPS and GIS to document the change in distribution and abundance of garlic mustard over time. We worked with teams of volunteers to apply an equal amount of management effort (person-hours) to each site for three consecutive years (2006-2008). In three sites we managed core patches only and in three sites we managed satellite patches only. We mapped distribution of garlic mustard in these sites using GPS each year, beginning before management and ending after our last year of management (2006-2009). We have developed GIS maps of the distribution and abundance of garlic mustard from our field-collected GPS data. We are using raster analyses to compare core versus satellite management. Preliminary analyses suggest that satellite management is more effective at reducing overall garlic mustard presence.

This work was supported by grant number #05—2290 from the Weeding and Invasive Species National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

GIS and the St. Louis Regional Database Project


Purpose and Overview

The integrated Internet mapping approach using GIS employed by the St. Louis Regional Database Project empowers stakeholders to be active participants in understanding factors influencing educational attainment in schools and neighborhoods.

The St. Louis Regional Database improves the availability of educational attainment data on a regional basis so that decisions can more readily be data-driven. The database incorporates numerous school, teacher, student, and academic performance variables that can be studied in conjunction with a variety of variables from the U.S. Census data. The interactive GIS mapping interface allows the novice user to produce regional spatial maps showing the relationship between two variables.

Viewing data spatially on a regional map empowers teachers, administrators, and parents to study and understand data as it exists in the social context of school districts, neighborhoods, and communities. A critical key to the GIS interactive approach is making navigation easy for "basic" Internet users to engage in exploratory data analysis. Exploratory data analysis of this type allows teachers, administrators, and parents to see in geospatial context how their school compares on educational attainment and other critical variables. It brings together large amounts of data from different sources and integrates these data into a user-friendly, but powerful research tool.

This intuitive GIS mapping approach can be used by professional researchers as well as community decision-makers, administrators, teachers, and parents. Many more people can have access to data organized as a region. It empowers those with minimal research experience to ask their own educational questions, and then visualize the data relationships in the geospatial context of communities and neighborhoods. For professional researchers and evaluators, this method greatly speeds up the data collection process that may take days or weeks and makes data available immediately.

Using real-time maps to visualize spatial relationships in educational data improves the ability to study data patterns and to see correlations of place and location with the social context of schools and neighborhoods. By using an internet-based GIS approach, educators, policy-makers, and community leaders have instantaneous access to data related to the region's schools, teachers, and students and can study the variables in geospatial context.

The St. Louis Database Project was developed under the Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL) at Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Education. CISTL was supported under the National Science Foundation's Centers for Learning and Teaching (CLT) program (grant #ESI-0227619).

Percent of Bachelors degree by Census Block Groups and High School Graduation rate by School

Percent of Students receiving Free-reduced price Lunch by School District and 5th Grade Math Proficiency percent by School