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Increased Google Health Searches during Recession

Update Date: Jan 09, 2014 09:40 AM EST

The relationship between people's health and recessions or depressions has been a popular subject. Several studies have found that during recessions, certain health ailments rise. In a new study, a team of epidemiological researchers headed by John W. Ayers from San Diego State University and Benjamin Althouse of the Santa Fe Institute examined this relationship with the help of one of the largest search engines in the world, Google.

The team used data provided by Google and mapped out the Google search patterns within the United States. Based from these statistics, the researchers discovered that during the most recent Great Recession, Google searches for certain health issues, such as ulcers, back pain and headaches spiked. The team defined the Great Recession as the time from December 2008 through to 2011. The majority of the health issues were not life threatening. Overall, the team calculated that there were more than 200 million additional health searches during this time.

For this study, the researchers first focused on five key words, which were chest, headache, heart, pain and stomach. These words indicated the most common health problems people face. When the team looked for these five root words, they compiled a list of 343 symptoms searches. When the researchers compared the data, they found that searches for "stomach ulcer symptoms" spiked by 228 percent during the Great Recession. For "headache symptoms," the number of searches rose by 193 percent.

The researchers then looked at the numbers when they grouped the health ailments into themes. They found that headache searches were 41 percent higher than predicted, hernia searchers were 37 percent higher than expected. For chest pain and heart arrhythmias, the searches were 35 percent and 32 percent higher than expected respectively.

"While it's impossible to uncover the motives for increased searches, they likely indicate a person being ill, and ill enough to seek out online information or remedies," Ayers said according to a news release. "The Great Recession undoubtedly got inside the body via the mind. Job loss or losing a home touched nearly everyone, directly or indirectly. But those who got away unscathed were probably not immune to the Great Recession's health implications, with many thinking 'I could be next'."

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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