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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Exploring the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and problem drinking as captured by Google searches in the US


There is considerable policy interest in the impact of macroeconomic conditions on health-related behaviours and outcomes. This paper sheds new light on this issue by exploring the relationship between macroeconomic conditions and an indicator of problem drinking derived from state-level data on alcoholism-related Google searches conducted in the US over the period 2004–2011.

We find the current recessionary period coincided with an almost 20% increase in alcoholism-related searches. Controlling for state and time-effects, a 5% rise in unemployment is followed in the next 12 months by an approximate 15% increase in searches.

The use of Internet searches to inform on health-related behaviours and outcomes is in its infancy; but we suggest that the data provides important real-time information for policy-makers and can help to overcome the under-reporting in surveys of sensitive information.

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