If an analysis of Google searches is anything to go off of, America's collective health got worse during the recession.
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that Google searches for ailments were dramatically higher between December 2008 and 2011, what researchers termed the Great Recession.
"The Great Recession undoubtedly got inside the body via the mind, namely through stress," study researcher John W. Ayers, a research professor at the School of Public Health at San Diego State University, said in a statement. "For example, the experiences of the unemployed may be stressful, but also those not directly affected by unemployment may become fearful of losing their jobs."
For the study, Ayers and his colleagues from other institutions analyzed Google searches during the recession, looking specifically for five health-related root terms. The terms were chest, pain, stomach, headache and heart.
Then, researchers looked at the frequency with which these terms were searched, taking care to exclude searches such as "tool chest" that were unrelated to health. Through this analysis, they were able to come up with a list of 343 symptoms that people commonly searched online. They compared the frequency with which people searched for these symptoms during this recession time period, compared with the frequency they searched for them outside of this time period.
Indeed, the researchers found that certain symptoms were searched at a far greater frequency during the recession. For instance, searches were 228 percent higher for "stomach ulcer symptoms" and 193 percent higher for "headache symptoms."
In general, Google searches about headaches, hernia, chest pain, arrhythmia, back pain, gastric pain and joint pain were all higher during the recession than during other times.
"Query-based sentinels may inform clinical practice, where clinicians use health concern query trends to alter their screening," researchers wrote in the study. "The stigma surrounding some concerns or limited access to healthcare delivery may prevent patients from engaging with clinical care. The Internet can potentially be a low-stigma and low-cost venue to reach patients who search for but do not otherwise receive screening or treatment for their concerns."
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