About the Geographical Classification for Health

Lower Mannorburn Dam- Galloway. Alexandra
Lower Mannorburn Dam- Galloway. Alexandra

The GCH is a rural-urban geographic classification designed to allow New Zealand’s health researchers and policy makers to accurately monitor rural-urban variations in health outcomes. The GCH classifies all areas of Aotearoa New Zealand as rural or urban according to their proximity to larger urban areas with respect to health.

The GCH is comprised of five categories, two urban and three rural, that reflect degrees of reducing urban influence and increasing rurality. The GCH applies these categories to all of New Zealand’s Statistical Area 1s (SA1s, small statistical areas which are the output geography for population data) on a scale from ‘Urban 1’ to ‘Urban 2’ based on population size, and from “Rural 1’ to ‘Rural 3’ based on drive time to their closest major, large, medium, and small1 urban areas. 

The population and drive time thresholds used in the GCH were developed from a health perspective; the nature of the functional relationships between urban areas and rural surrounds considered through a health lens. The quantitative and qualitative (‘on-the-ground’) validity of the GCH were tested in partnership with the Ministry of Health’s National Rural Health Advisory Group (NRHAG) and a wide range of rural health stakeholders.

The GCH is based on Stats NZ geographies and classifications and will update in line with them. The GCH uses the population and drive time data that was used in the development of the Urban Accessibility (UA) classification (StatsNZ, 2020). The UA is in turn based on the Statistical Standard for Geographic Areas 2018 (SSGA18) which includes the urban rural 2018 (UR2018) classification (StatsNZ, 2018). 

GCH disclaimer

The GCH is a useful tool for identifying rural populations and monitoring rural-urban variation in health outcomes that can inform the development of rural health policies. However, it has not been designed to uncritically guide health policy and funding decisions and it is not an index of healthcare accessibility or workforce shortage. Other factors in addition to the GCH may also need to be considered when making policy or funding decisions. These might include: the distribution of population sub-groups (e.g., ethnicity, age) and the social determinants of health; the locations of health services and workforce shortage; local knowledge; the type of health service being considered; and whether individual health service users or health services are to receive the funding. The GCH research team and Hauora Taiwhenua welcome any queries in relation to the use of this tool.

Please view the current publications and other interest articles on the Publications page or click below:

GCH Publications

Please view these maps in a PDF file format on the GCH maps page or click below:

Geographic Classification for Health – GCH Maps


This research has been supported by the Health Research Council New Zealand. (19/488)