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Health Complaints Rose During Recent Recession

The recent recession in the United States impacted individuals’ well-being as well as their finances, according to a recent study.

Health-related Google inquiries, particularly for stress-related ailments, spiked between December, 2008, and December, 2011 — the period frequently described as the Great Recession. Researchers say that during that time, online searches for information on stomach ulcers increased by 228 percent, and headache inquiries followed closely with a 193% increase, translating to an excess of 1.48 and 1.52 million searches for those two ailments alone. Among the top 100 health complaints that were searched, there were more than 200 million queries about health concerns than would be expected. The numbers remained high, ranking considerably above the pre-recession threshold as the economy improved toward the end of 2011.

Epidemiologists John W. Ayers of San Diego State University and Benjamin Althouse of the Santa Fe Institute led this study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“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.’”

The same team of researchers also found that searches for depression and anxiety—which are also frequently related to headache—rose dramatically during the recession.

They noted that tabulating online searches may have considerable public health benefits.

“In fact, many current approaches to public health surveillance are both slow and expensive,” Althouse said. “Internet search queries may provide a significantly more precise metric, suggesting precisely when and how the population’s health could be changing.”

Such an approach could be used to improve public health quickly, they added. For example, Google could suggest links to evidence-based, Internet-based treatment options in coordination with health agencies that provide access to virtual health care.

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