In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medical Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Location and Allocation of Health Services

Geography Medical Geography
Jennifer Winston, Michael Emch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0034


Medical geography is concerned with the analysis of spatial patterns of disease and health care provision. John M. Hunter famously defined the field as “the application of geographical concepts and techniques to health-related problems” (Hunter 1974, p. 3; cited under General Overviews). This definition of geography is human-environment interaction through time and space and conceptualizes environmental influences broadly to include the biophysical, built, and social environments. Hunter suggests that medical geography is at the heart of the discipline of geography, because all specialties have something to offer toward the understanding of health problems. The field has been historically divided into (1) studies of disease that often involve mapping and modeling and (2) those that concern geographic aspects of health services. Medical geographic studies of diseases are often placed in the theoretical context of disease ecology. Those that focus on spatial methods are sometimes called spatial or geographic epidemiology studies. The geography of health services is concerned with spatial aspects of access to health care, health care delivery, and the planning of health services. Medical geography is a holistic field that draws on the concepts, theories, and techniques of geography and other social and biophysical sciences. It spans the biological, environmental, and social sciences and uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. This bibliography begins with general overview texts and main theories in medical geography. It then moves to applications of these theories in the section Health and the Environment. It describes various methodologies to implement medical geographic theory in the section Mapping Disease and concludes with the section Location and Allocation of Health Services. Building on Hunter’s premise that scholars in a variety of disciplines can and have made important contributions to medical geography, this bibliography includes many articles that are published in journals that are not traditionally considered geography journals.

General Overviews

There are several medical geography textbooks written for different levels of inquiry specializing in various parts of the field. New editions have been published for two standard texts in the field. Meade and Emch 2010 is comprehensive in its coverage of aspects and approaches to the geographic study of health, disease, and health care and emphasizes disease ecology of both infectious and noncommunicable diseases in the natural, built, and social environments. Gatrell and Elliott 2009 also aims to be comprehensive in its coverage but emphasizes the social environment more than others. A large section is devoted to the quality of air and water and environmental changes, such as ozone depletion, and ill health. Anthamatten and Hazen 2011 is the most introductory medical geography text. It divides the field into three main approaches: ecological, social, and spatial. Beyond textbooks there are also several collections of papers on the subject that include introductory overview chapters and case studies. Brown, et al. 2010 is the most comprehensive. This text begins with an introduction to the subdiscipline and then proceeds to a section on disease studies and methodologies, followed by several chapters on health and well-being. It distinguishes between the sister field of health geography, which focuses on social dimensions of health, especially in economically advanced countries. Hunter 1974 is a historic collection of framing papers and empirical case studies that would be a good grounding for anyone who wants to understand the field of medical geography.

  • Anthamatten, Peter, and Helen Hazen. An Introduction to the Geography of Health. London: Routledge, 2011.

    An overview medical geography text appropriate for students new to the subject. Divides medical geography into ecological, social, and spatial approaches.

  • Brown, Tim, Sara McLafferty, and Graham Moon, eds. A Companion to Health and Medical Geography. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    A comprehensive collection of papers by experts in the field. Includes theory, case studies, and methodology. Covers health geography more extensively than the other general overview texts.

  • Gatrell, Anthony C., and Susan J. Elliott. Geographies of Health: An Introduction. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    An overview text aimed at upper-division undergraduate or graduate students. Includes sections on theories to explain geographies of health, methodology, social environment, and physical environment.

  • Hunter, John M., ed. The Geography of Health and Disease: Papers of the First Carolina Geographical Symposium. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Department of Geography, 1974.

    A seminal text providing historical background on the development of the field of medical geography. The first chapter, “The Challenge of Medical Geography,” enumerates potential contributions of different disciplines to medical geography and describes various subfields.

  • Meade, Melinda S., and Michael Emch. Medical Geography. 3d ed. New York: Guilford, 2010.

    A comprehensive overview text aimed at upper-division undergraduates or graduate students. This edition has added sections on spatial epidemiology, geographic information systems in public health and neighborhood health, and health theories and analysis. Focuses on a disease ecology framework and includes methodology for implementing the theory described.

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