The analysis of area-level aggregated summary data is common in many disciplines including epidemiology and the social sciences. Typically, Markov random field spatial models have been employed to acknowledge spatial dependence and allow data-driven smoothing. In the context of an irregular set of areas, these models always have an ad hoc element with respect to the definition of a neighborhood scheme. In this article, we exploit recent theoretical and computational advances to carry out modeling at the continuous spatial level, which induces a spatial model for the discrete areas. This approach also allows reconstruction of the continuous underlying surface, but the interpretation of such surfaces is delicate since it depends on the quality, extent and configuration of the observed data. We focus on models based on stochastic partial differential equations. We also consider the interesting case in which the aggregate data are supplemented with point data. We carry out Bayesian inference and, in the language of generalized linear mixed models, if the link is linear, an efficient implementation of the model is available via integrated nested Laplace approximations. For nonlinear links, we present two approaches: a fully Bayesian implementation using a Hamiltonian Monte Carlo algorithm and an empirical Bayes implementation, that is much faster and is based on Laplace approximations. We examine the properties of the approach using simulation, and then apply the model to the classic Scottish lip cancer data.

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