Over the decades, researchers have increasingly looked into the effect of neighborhood stores and other food options on residents' health (Caspi, Sorensen, Subramanian, & Kawachi, 2012). Many researchers have found that food environments play an important role in individuals’ health outcomes (Bleich, Jones-smith, Wolfson, & Zhu, 2015; Cummins, Macintyre, & Glasgow, 2002; Willett, 1994). The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), funded by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, also aims to improve the nutrition and healthy lifestyle knowledge of individuals who are SNAP participants and low-income individuals eligible to receive SNAP benefits or other federal assistance. Agencies in each state contract with the USDA to provide classes in nutritional education and sponsor initiatives to encourage healthy food choices. The University of Georgia (UGA) SNAP-Ed program is a collaboration between the Department of Foods and Nutrition and Cooperative Extension that aims to help low-income populations in Georgia establish healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle through evidence-based nutrition education and local campaigns to promote consumption of healthy foods. This includes online content showing cooking and shopping tips, advertising campaigns, and outreach to K-12 schools.
During my Master’s degree work, I was a research assistant for the UGA SNAP-Ed program. I worked with Dr. Jerry Shannon to provide spatial analysis and mapping that supported UGA SNAP-Ed program. Using GIS technology, we mapped out areas with high percentages of eligible populations where more than half the population’s income was below 185% of the poverty rate, areas within one mile from Free and Reduced Meal School, Georgia Promise Zones and Georgia Strike Force zones. Sites intersect with any of these areas above are considered as qualified nutrition education sites and are eligible for SNAP-Ed programming.
This tool provides basic map visualization functions for different SNAP-Ed qualification layers, functions for determining nutrition education site eligibility, and an info box updating site qualification information.
Details on the application
Our web tool has five fundamental features:
Basic functions such as adding basemaps, layer controls, and adding info window are well-explained in the tutorials and documentations. For me, the major challenge of this map was determining site eligibility and creating the Geo-locator. While Leaflet is a powerful map visualization API, it has limited features on spatial analysis functions. Luckily, we have plugins contributed by other people to realize those functions. This is one of the many advantages of open source software. To determine whether a point is intersected with a layer, we used the “Leaflet-pip” plugin which provides us point-in-polygon calculation support. For the Geo-locator, we used “Leaflet GeoSearch” plugin which is an easily extensible plugin supports address searching and real-time geocoding in Leaflet.
This web tool is hosted on GitHub’s online repositories using GitHub Pages. GitHub is an open source web-based version control hosting service, it is free and very convenient for project collaboration and distribution. Click on this link to see it live. For more detailed information and actual code, please visit the GitHub page on this project.
Overall, this web tool using geospatial data can help UGA SNAP-Ed determine nutrition site eligibility more efficiently without communicating with GIS experts. The GitHub repositories can also help UGA SNAP-Ed manage the tool in the long run. Also, the open source code and public accessible data can be easily extended and replicated for SNAP-Ed in other states.
One thing worth mentioning here is that even though we provided this tool for UGA SNAP-Ed program, they seldomly used it due to various reasons: First, they still feel better having GIS experts directly confirm eligibility manually. Also, the map is not an adequate stand for specific circumstances. It raised my concern that while our lab has talked a lot about Public Participatory GIS and Community GIS, how to gain public acceptance and further public engagement to it still remains a question.
Yangjiaxin Wei is a first year Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia in the Department of Geography.