Today’s post is the third (and last) in this week’s graph-tacular series looking at celiac disease awareness trends. (Here are part 1 and part 2 if you missed them.) Since it’s National Celiac Awareness Month in the United States—and we often hear about how progressive some other countries are when it comes to celiac awareness, medical care, gluten-free standards, and financial support for those adhering to a gluten-free diet—it seemed only fitting to conclude this week’s posts with a look at how gluten and celiac awareness in the U.S. compares to our fellow English-speaking countries: Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
The first graph above shows the Google search term popularity for “gluten” in each of the four countries. Not surprisingly, it shows an exponential uptick in recent years. With the exception of Australia (green), which started with a higher baseline ten years ago, “gluten” was an equally prominent search term in each of the countries. Then Australia, Canada, and the U.S. surged while the poor United Kingdom lagged behind. Or so it seems.
Countries like the U.K., Canada, and Australia have populations one-fifth to less than one-tenth that of the U.S., so it’s not fair to simply graph the raw popularity of a Google search term like “gluten.” If the search term is equally popular superficially in the U.S. and Canada, but the U.S. has nearly 320 million people and Canada just 35 million, then “gluten” isn’t really equally popular. If ten times as many people are generating the same number of search results as a much smaller population, it says something about awareness.
And so I’m sure you can predict what I did. I pulled the most recent available population estimates from the federal governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Then I re-scaled the Google search trend data so that it now shows “gluten” searches per capita, a much better apples-to-apples comparison of awareness in the various countries.
This much more informative view really blows the doors off. Australia and, to a similar degree, Canada show themselves to be leading the pack in a pretty substantial way. The U.K., which initially appeared a laggard above, actually proves to be ahead of the U.S. And the United States? I’m afraid we’re the true laggards with an awareness far below some of our English-speaking peers.
Of course, this is about celiac awareness and not gluten awareness, so let’s shift gears and look at the “celiac” side of things. When you graph only the raw search term data, the countries are much more clustered. The United States appears to be right in the mix, the United Kingdom (again) appears to be lagging, and all countries exhibit small but definite upward trends in celiac awareness over time.
But when you convert the data to per capita values, it’s truly eye opening. Australia and Canada show themselves to be far ahead when it comes to celiac awareness. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is making real progress. For a number of years, its per capita celiac awareness tracked exactly with that of the United States, but starting in mid-2009 the U.K.’s awareness began climbing and has continued since. And the U.S.? We’re caught standing next to the tracks while the celiac awareness train has left the station.
As the U.K. shows, though, a nation can alter the trajectory of its celiac awareness and make real headway closing the gap to the leaders. It’s time for the U.S. to follow suit.
Prompted in part by a reader comment noting that in the U.K. “coeliac” is also a prevalent term (vs. “celiac”), I did a bit of extra behind-the-scenes data manipulation to take alternate English language spellings into account. In the U.S. and Canada, “celiac” accounts for essentially 99.99% of all searches, so that was a non-issue. In both the U.K. and Australia, “coeliac” used to be the dominant term, though “celiac” has been gaining ground such that it now ranks equally with “coeliac” in those countries. Taking the influence of “coeliac” into account, it further differentiated awareness across the four countries, so that their four curves no longer have significant overlap. The U.K.’s and Australia’s awareness both improved as a result, leaving the U.S. that much further behind.
P.S. For those readers who live in these other countries or have traveled to them, what do you think? Do these graphs match your perception and experience of celiac and gluten-free awareness in these places? Please comment and let us know!