Google Trends data allows us to see what people are searching for at a very local level. This visualization tracks the top searches for common health issues in the United States, from Cancer to Diabetes, and compares them with the actual location of occurrences for those same health conditions to understand how search data reflects life for millions of Americans.
How does search interest for top health issues change over time? From 2004–2017, the data shows that search interest gradually increased over the past few years. Certain regions show a more significant increase in search interest than others. The increase in search activity is greatest in the Midwest and Northeast, while the changes are noticeably less dramatic in California, Texas, and Idaho. Are people generally becoming more aware of health conditions and health risks?
Google search data, 2004–present
How do searches on health issues compare to actual occurrences of those same health risks? Are regions with greater awareness also healthier? And do “healthier” regions tend not to worry as much? To answer these questions, we compared regional search interest with reported occurrences of health conditions.
Comparing the maps, we can see the greatest geographic relationship between search interest and actual occurrences for Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Depression. Are people more aware of certain health topics like Cancer, Stroke, Depression in certain regions, because those conditions are a top concern there?
The relationship between low search interest and low occurrences is less obvious. The most noticeable exist among the more grievous conditions such as Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke. Do people worry less about serious conditions if they aren’t exposed to them as much?
Certain topics like Obesity and Diabetes have an inverse relationship—high search interest, but fewer occurrences of related health conditions. These conditions appear to be top-of-mind, despite little evidence of actual occurrences. Does higher awareness sometimes lead to fewer actual occurrences for certain health conditions?
If higher awareness means fewer occurrences of health conditions, might lower interest be associated with more occurrences? This appears to be largely true for Diabetes and Obesity.
Preventable and Digestive Diseases show little to no relationship.
Google search data, Jan, 1, 2004–present. .
Let's take a closer look at the the outliers. The scatterplot above shows the relationship between search interest and actual cases for all metropolitan areas in the US. Since the strongest relationship exists for the regions closest to the dashed line, the outliers are those furthest from the dashed line. Below are several of the most interesting outliers:
Rochester MN-Mason City IA-Austin MN
Observation: Highest search interest, relatively low occurrence
Observation: Highest occurrence, relatively high search interest
Observation: Highest occurrence, relatively low search interest
Many striking similarities exist between searches and actual conditions—but the relationship between the Obesity and Diabetes maps stands out the most.
“There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes such as age, race, pregnancy, stress, certain medications, genetics or family history, high cholesterol and obesity.
However, the single best predictor of type 2 diabetes is overweight or obesity.
Almost 90% of people living with type 2 diabetes are overweight or have obesity.
People who are overweight or have obesity have added pressure on their body's ability to use insulin to properly control blood sugar levels, and are therefore more likely to develop diabetes.”
—Obesity Society via obesity.org