The group examined Americans’ Google search patterns and discovered that during the recent Great Recession, people searched considerably more frequently for information about health ailments.
The kinds of problems indicated by the queries weren’t life threatening, but they could keep someone in the bed a few days, like ulcers, headaches, and back pain.
In the new study, the team began with five root words indicative of the most common health problems: “chest”, “headache”, “heart”, “pain”, and “stomach.”
Next, the team calculated what the search volume of those symptoms’ queries would have been if there had been no Great Recession – what statisticians call synthetic controls – correcting for such variables as the growing availability of the Internet and increased usage.
Comparing those values to people’s actual search behavior revealed that certain symptoms were searched for with far more frequency during the recession. Searches for “stomach ulcer symptoms” were 228 percent higher than would be expected and “headache symptoms” were 193 percent higher, representing about 1.48 and 1.52 million excess searches.
Queries about headaches were 41 percent higher than expected; for hernias, 37 percent; for chest pain, 35 percent; and for heart arrhythmias, 32 percent.
The new study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.