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The emergence of Type 2 Diabetes could be more effectively monitored using our Google searches, helping public health officials to keep a track of the disease and halt its spread, scientists say.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK propose that key words entered into search engines — or posted on social media — which are related to symptoms and risk-factors of diabetes, provide accurate real-time information on how likely the disease is to propagate in specific areas, and what are the underlying conditions.
They looked at diabetes risk factors from two principal UK surveillance models, which monitor the disease in those who are in danger of developing it or suffer already — including gender, age, weight, body mass index, lifestyle habits (such as smoking) and family history of diabetes.
The researchers then analysed Google Trends data from people in the central London area, and compared weekly fluctuation rates of searched keywords linked to these risk factors, such as "how to lose weight", "how to quit smoking" — as well as searches on "diabetes" itself.
"Self-diagnosing behaviours online could be effectively leveraged for real-time health monitoring tools, with the biggest potential to be anticipated for chronic and non-communicable diseases," said Nataliya Tkachenko, who led the study.
"Unlike quickly spreading diseases (eg, flues), such slowly developing conditions are largely dependent on the personal and community lifestyles, the factors, which are currently unaccounted for in the screening models.
"Human online behaviours could help to bridge the gap between real-world human health landscape and synthetic, predominantly bio-centric monitoring tools," she said.
Type 2 Diabetes requires many complex diagnostic medical tests to identify, including physical tests, urine samples, blood glucose tests, and insulin level blood tests.
People are increasingly turning to the Internet to self-diagnose illnesses, researchers said.
In 2015, 21.8 per cent of people in Britain chose to self-diagnose illnesses using the Internet, instead of consulting family or doctors-according to Google UK, they said.
Search engine traces, therefore, constitute the growing data pool, which can be exploited by health practitioners and decision-makers in order to design new generation screening programmes, the researchers said.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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