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Linked In? Web Searches Indicate Wealth, Health Woes Connected

January 16, 2014
Mark Dredze

Mark Dredze

By sifting through Google searches that were conducted during the recent economic downturn, researchers from five institutions— including Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering — have uncovered an apparent link between health and wealth.

Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, was a co-author of the study, published in the Feb. 2014 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. By analyzing Google query patterns, he and his colleagues discovered that during the Great Recession, Americans searched considerably more often for information about health ailments. The kinds of problems indicated by the queries—ulcers, headaches and back pain, for example—weren’t life threatening, but they could keep someone in the bed a few days.

The team found there were more than 200 million excess queries of this kind during the Great Recession than expected. In the study, the Great Recessions was defined as December 2008 through 2011.

John W. Ayers of San Diego State University and Benjamin Althouse of the Santa Fe Institute led the research project. 

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