Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who uses complementary and alternative medicine?

Flickr Photo by Auntie P
If you listen to certain people you would think that parents who use alternative or complementary medicine (CAM) with their children are uninformed, easily confused people who are so desperate to help their children that they would be willing to try anything.

But is that really an accurate depiction? According to a study 1 published this month in Pediatrics in might not be.

There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding as to what exactly is meant by CAM. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health (NCAM), a division of the National Institute of Heath (NIH), defines CAM to be -
Complementary and alternative medicine is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.
which includes a long list of therapies. For a complete list, look at the site I link above. What is interesting is that vitamin supplements are not included on the list of "alternative" treatments anymore, they are accepted my mainstream medicine.

In the study, the researchers looked at CAM use in children under 18 as reported in the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. According to this survey over 8 million children in the US (over 10%) utilized some form of CAM in 2007. Like the definition from the NCAM, this study excluded vitamins and mineral supplements saying "vitamins and minerals are used routinely for preventive care in pediatrics."

Just to be clear, when you give your child a simple multivitamin or some other vitamin on the advice of a doctor, you are not engaging in some alternative form of medicine. This falls under mainstream medicine now. (Well, unless you are using mega-doses of vitamins or something else strange than it would still be alternative)

So, according to the survey, who is using alternative medicine these days with their children? Is is desperate, uninformed parents who are willing to try anything?

In a word - no.

The researchers found that CAM use was higher in wealthier families and where one or both parents held a college degree. The children were more likely to take prescription drugs and be covered by private insurance. They were also most likely to have chronic health problems such as ADHD, allergies, asthma, dermatologic conditions, developmental disorders (including autism), fever, gastrointestinal conditions, headaches, insomnia, or learning disabilities, just to name a few.

Or in other words, educated middle class parents who are looking for extra ways to help their children deal with chronic issues.

Not what you would expect.

1. Birdee GS, Phillips RS, Davis RB, Gardiner P. Factors Associated With
Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Pediatrics. 2010 Jan 25.PubMed PMID: 20100769. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-1406


  1. Thanks for posting this story. It's really informative and made me want to read up on the subject more.

    Director of Blogger Networks

  2. Thank you, I am glad you liked it.