How Google Street View Images Could Help Us Address Public Health

Most people only check out Google Street View when they are trying to identify a location or to check out the bird’s eye view of their own home. It is also a great way to check out modern life and, if you take a look through some of the images available, it might surprise you how much it reveals about the way we live. In fact, the images are so revealing that they have now become central to an important piece of research that could potentially save lives in the future. A study has recently been completed that relates to transportation and improving public health and Google Street View was a vital resource for this study.

The researchers wanted to know about the population’s transport habits. Therefore, they studied thousands of images from Google Street View to see if they could provide them with accurate data. They are hoping that public health officials can use this data when making predictions about new transportation policies aimed at making people healthier.

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 3.2 million premature deaths each year are caused by physical inactivity. Health officials from the organization are encouraging people to find ways of active transport, such as cycling and walking. They believe by doing so, many unnecessary deaths could be avoided in the future.

Collating accurate data is essential before the officials can create such policies. The researchers have noted that the study is necessary because data is only usually collected every ten years because it is so impractical to gather. Google Street View is allowing them to gather more detailed data and reducing the problems of impracticality. Compared to traditional surveys, the data is being collected in a more consistent way, said James Woodcock from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, who is the paper’s senior author.

The images available on Google Street View are from 100 nations across all continents. This includes many countries that are classified as low or middle income. According to the World Health Organization, it is those countries where that are 2.6 million premature deaths annually that are as a result of physical inactivity.

The team of British researchers concentrated their data collection on 34 cities from across the UK. Their data include over 2,000 images from Google Street View that were taken between 2010 and 2012. These were from over 1,000 random spots from each of the cities. The researchers then painstakingly studied the details from the images and counted anything within them that related to transportation, such as the cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

They then totaled how many people were using each of the different methods of transportation and compared their findings against the data documented in the Active People Surveys from 2010 to 2012 and the 2011 UK census. The data from these were used as a control.

According to their findings, there was a strong correlation between the data for people using public transportation, motorbikes, and bicycles. On the other hand, there was less correlation between the data from the control studies and the data from Google Street Images when it came to the walking estimates. The results showed only moderate agreement. Another area highlighted by the studies was the gender distribution amongst cyclists. The data collected showed promising results when it came to this area of the study.

Transportation and public health policy makers from across the globe now simply need to access the data to make use of it when creating their new policies. The data from the research is already available in many parts of the world and is ready for analysis by these policymakers.

The research has provided a wealth of data for them to use and, if the health officials take advantage of this, the data has the potential to save millions of lives across the globe. Although this was not what Google Street View was initially intended for, it just goes to show how important the Internet has become as a resource that can be used in a variety of ways. Nobody would have believed when this function was first created on the Internet that it had the potential to become a resource for policymaking or that it could become a way of saving people’s lives.


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