July 31, 2008
Wired Campus--Sick Celebrities/Seasons Influence Health Searching
July 31, 2008
Sick Celebrities and Seasons Influence Internet Searches for Health News
With a tool from Google that tracks searches, researchers from Ball State University have uncovered a few patterns in the way that consumers search for health information.
The report, released yesterday and available free from the university, shows that the time of year and the health problems of the rich and famous influence what health topics people research on the Internet, according to the investigators from the university’s Center for Media Design.
The researchers used Google Trends, a tool that tracks public searches and holds data going back to 2004.
Information on diet and exercise peaked around New Year’s Day, says Peter Ellery, one of the researchers. That’s not shocking: it’s New Year’s resolution time.
The researchers also learned that illnesses reported by celebrities led to more searches about such diseases. People in the public eye have always been able to draw attention, and their health problems draw attention as well.
Barron Lerner, a medical historian and physician at Columbia University, has chronicled this pattern in his book, When Illness Goes Public. I asked him, a few years ago, why sick celebrities are so important to other people. “There’s a sense that celebrities have access to the best care and that you’d be wise to do what they did,” Dr. Lerner told me. “Would that work for me, people wonder? Lance Armstrong says that people write to him asking about everything he did and ate while fighting testicular cancer.
Posted by schnitzr at July 31, 2008 05:10 PM