Neighbourhood looking glass: 360º automated characterisation of the built environment for neighbourhood effects research

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Abstract

Background

Neighbourhood quality has been connected with an array of health issues, but neighbourhood research has been limited by the lack of methods to characterise large geographical areas. This study uses innovative computer vision methods and a new big data source of street view images to automatically characterise neighbourhood built environments.

Methods

A total of 430 000 images were obtained using Google’s Street View Image API for Salt Lake City, Chicago and Charleston. Convolutional neural networks were used to create indicators of street greenness, crosswalks and building type. We implemented log Poisson regression models to estimate associations between built environment features and individual prevalence of obesity and diabetes in Salt Lake City, controlling for individual-level and zip code-level predisposing characteristics.

Results

Computer vision models had an accuracy of 86%–93% compared with manual annotations. Charleston had the highest percentage of green streets (79%), while Chicago had the highest percentage of crosswalks (23%) and commercial buildings/apartments (59%). Built environment characteristics were categorised into tertiles, with the highest tertile serving as the referent group. Individuals living in zip codes with the most green streets, crosswalks and commercial buildings/apartments had relative obesity prevalences that were 25%–28% lower and relative diabetes prevalences that were 12%–18% lower than individuals living in zip codes with the least abundance of these neighbourhood features.

Conclusion

Neighbourhood conditions may influence chronic disease outcomes. Google Street View images represent an underused data resource for the construction of built environment features.

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