Tracking Diabetes Trends With Google Searches and Social Media

Google searches can be used to track the prevalence and spread of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers in the Department of Computer Science, University of Warwick.

The researchers found keywords entered on search engines or social media sites, words concerning diabetes symptoms and risk factors, generate accurate information on the incidence of diabetes in specific locales.

The discovery was made by determining the risk factors for diabetes, including age, weight, gender, family history, and lifestyle habits, and then analyzing the rates of searched keywords associated with those risk factors. Examples of diabetes risk-related searches are “how to lose weight,” and “how to quit smoking.”

Analyzing the self-diagnosing searches people do online could provide real-time health trend monitoring, especially for chronic and non-communicable diseases.

“Unlike quickly spreading diseases (e.g., flues), such slowly developing conditions are largely dependent on personal and community lifestyles, the factors, which are currently unaccounted for in the screening models,” said researcher Nataliya Tkachenko. “Human online behaviors could help to bridge the gap between real-world human health landscape and synthetic, predominantly bio-centric monitoring tools.”

Search engine statistics offer a growing health-issue data pool because people increasingly use the Internet to self-diagnose illness, and research treatments. This tendency can by harnessed by healthcare providers and policy makers to design targeted screening programs.

Currently, search engine and social media data are untapped by medical professionals, but using this information could revolutionize the tracking of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. It would potentially enable the identification of emerging health trends for early intervention.

The Warwick University research was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

Source: University of Warwick
Photo credit: C_osett

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