Health and wealth more strongly connected

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SummaryHealth and wealth queries weren't life threatening, but they could keep someone in bed a few days.

Health and wealth may be more strongly connected than previously thought, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined Americans' Google search patterns and discovered that during the recent 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.

The team found there were more than 200 million excess queries of this kind during the recession than expected.

"While it's impossible to uncover the motives for increased searches, they likely indicate a person being ill, and ill enough to seek out on-line information or remedies," said John W Ayers from San Diego State University.

Ayers and Benjamin Althouse of the Santa Fe Institute and their colleagues began with five root words indicative of the most common health problems: "chest", "headache", "heart", "pain", and "stomach."

Searches for "stomach ulcer symptoms" were 228 per cent higher than would be expected and "headache symptoms" were 193 per cent higher, representing about 1.48 and 1.52 million excess searches.

Queries about headaches were 41 per cent higher than expected; for hernias, 37 per cent; for chest pain, 35 per cent; and for heart arrhythmias, 32 per cent.

Back pain, gastric pain, joint pain and toothache also popped up with greater-than-expected frequency among the search terms.

"The Great Recession undoubtedly got inside the body via the mind," Ayers said.

"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'," Ayers said.

Althouse said that by monitoring health-related search terms, public health officials could recognise burgeoning epidemics and direct resources to help people reduce their stress or take other precautionary measures.

This technique is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient than traditional survey based methodologies, he added.

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

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