Paging Dr. Google: What Google Trends Data Says About Our Health

How many times have you noticed a new ache or pain and, instead of scheduling a doctor appointment, turned to…

How many times have you noticed a new ache or pain and, instead of scheduling a doctor appointment, turned to Dr. Google to self-diagnose? Whether we’re checking symptoms online or reading about whatever medical problem we’re sure we have, Health Information Seeking Behavior – the act of self-researching our perceived medical issues – has become quite pervasive in culture today.

We were curious about what exactly people were searching for when it came to their health, so we decided to dissect an open data set from Kaggle that examines Google Trends API search results into the most searched for health topics spanning 2004-2017. The Community Health Status Indicators used for the dataset were: cancer, strokes, diabetes, rehab, diarrhea, vaccinations, depression, obesity, and cardiovascular issues.

In order to compare how health-related searching has changed over time, we separated the results for 2006-2008 and 2015-2017. The results? Well, they might be different from what you’d assume, including:

  • The most searched-for health topic as of 2017 was diabetes
  • Depression made the biggest overall increase going up a huge 99%
  • Alaska had the biggest state increase of searching in a specific topic, with a 165% increase in diarrhea-related searches
  • Vaccination is still a hot topic with searches going up 92% between 2006-2017


What are Americans searching for?

It might seem obvious that health-related searches, in general, have increased between 2006-2017. However, when we look at which topics are gaining the most traction, we can see a better idea of the issues that Americans are worried about.

The following graph shows the increase in the percent of health-related searches between our two time periods. Notice how cancer only went up 10%, while depression, vaccines, and diarrhea all made increases of over 80%.

Health Search

United States of Health Searches?

We can dig deeper into the data and look at which states are searching the most for each topic. It turns out, states are not united in terms of what they’re looking for or how much they’re looking. The graph below pinpoints Alaska as having the biggest increase in searches of any state with an increase of 165% in searches related to diarrhea.

Who had the greatest increase in searches related to the other topics? Hawaii went up the most in vaccine-related searches, Massachusetts for cardiovascular, Nevada for obesity, Alaska for depression, Wyoming for diabetes, Maine for strokes, Connecticut for rehab, and Nebraska for cancer.

Health Search

Different Cities, Different Concerns

How do specific cities contribute to these trends? The following chart shows which particular metropolitan areas had the biggest global increase in searches. Jackson, Tennessee comes in first with a 100% overall increase.

The chart below shows where the top five metropolitan areas (in terms of highest overall global search increase) had their biggest points of change.

Health Search

Continuing down the city route, we wanted to see if there were similarities in searches between what people who live in the top 10 cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose) and those who live in smaller metropolitan areas.

As you can see, in most ways the two populations searched similarly with a few larger differences when looking at the categories of depression, diarrhea, and obesity.

Health Search

What Does it All Mean?

As the general statistics of overall sickness go up in the US, so does the amount of health information seeking behavior. How we search for health information and what our searches say about the status of health in America are very much related.

Read our full report and access our dashboard to see the whole picture of what health topics are concerning Americans most, where in the country the biggest search areas are, and what this means to you and your health.

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