More Than One-Third of U.S. Adults Use Complementary and Alternative Medicine, According to New Government Survey
According to a new nationwide government survey¹, 36 percent of U.S. adults
aged 18 years and over use some form of complementary and alternative
medicine (CAM). CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and
health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently
considered to be part of conventional medicine. When prayer specifically
for health reasons is included in the definition of CAM, the number
of U.S. adults using some form of CAM in the past year rises to
"These new findings confirm the extent to which Americans
have turned to CAM approaches with the hope that they would help
treat and prevent disease and enhance quality of life," said
Stephen E. Straus, M.D., Director, National Center for Complementary
and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). "The data not only assists
us in understanding who is using CAM, what is being used, and why,
but also in studying relationships between CAM use and other health
characteristics, such chronic health conditions, insurance coverage,
and health behaviors."
The survey, administered to over 31,000 representative U.S. adults,
was conducted as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
(CDC) 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Developed by
NCCAM and the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS),
the survey included questions on 27 types of CAM therapies commonly
used in the United States. These included 10 types of provider-based
therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic, and 17 other therapies
that do not require a provider, such as natural products (herbs
or botanical products), special diets, and megavitamin therapy.
Although there have been many surveys of CAM use to date, the various
surveys included fewer choices of CAM therapies. In addition, they
often surveyed smaller population samples primarily relying on telephone
or mail surveys versus in-person interviews used for this survey.
Thus, the results from the CAM portion of the NHIS provide the most
comprehensive and reliable data to date describing CAM use by the
U.S. adult population.
Overall, the survey revealed that CAM use was greater among a variety
of population groups, including women; people with higher education;
those who had been hospitalized within the past year; and former
smokers, compared to current smokers or those who had never smoked.
In addition, this was the first survey to yield substantial information
on CAM use by minorities. For example, it found that African American
adults were more likely than white or Asian adults to use CAM when
megavitamin therapy and prayer were included in the definition of
"We're continuously expanding the health information we collect
in this country, including information on the actions people take
in dealing with their own health situations," said NCHS Director
Edward J. Sondik, Ph.D. "Over the years we've concentrated
on traditional medical treatment, but this new collection of CAM
data taps into another dimension entirely. What we see is that a
sizable percentage of the public puts their personal health into
their own hands."
CAM approaches were most often used to treat back pain or problems,
colds, neck pain or problems, joint pain or stiffness, and anxiety
or depression. However, only about 12 percent of adults sought care
from a licensed CAM practitioner, suggesting that most people who
use CAM do so without consulting a practitioner. According to the
survey, the 10 most commonly used CAM therapies and the approximate
percent of U.S. adults using each therapy were:
- Prayer for own health, 43 percent
- Prayer by others for the respondent's health, 24 percent
- Natural products (such as herbs, other botanicals, and enzymes),
- Deep breathing exercises, 12 percent
- Participation in prayer group for own health, 10 percent
- Meditation, 8 percent
- Chiropractic care, 8 percent
- Yoga, 5 percent
- Massage, 5 percent
- Diet-based therapies (such as Atkins, Pritikin, Ornish, and
Zone diets), 4 percent.
In addition to gathering data on the use of CAM practices, the
survey also sought information about why people use CAM. Key findings
Interestingly, the survey also found that about 28 percent of adults
used CAM because they believed conventional medical treatments would
not help them with their health problem; this is in contrast to previous
findings that CAM users are not, in general, dissatisfied with conventional
- 55 percent of adults said they were most likely to use CAM
because they believed that it would help them when combined with
conventional medical treatments;
- 50 percent thought CAM would be interesting to try;
- 26 percent used CAM because a conventional medical professional
suggested they try it; and
- 13 percent used CAM because they felt that conventional medicine
was too expensive.
The results of the survey reveal new patterns of CAM use among
various population groups and provide a rich source of data for
future research. Furthermore, the survey results provide a baseline
for future surveys, as it establishes a consistent definition of
CAM that can be used to track trends and prevalence of CAM use.
NCCAM, a component of the National Institutes of Health, DHHS,
is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing
practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers,
and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals.
For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free
at 1-888-644-6226 or visit NCCAM's Web site at nccam.nih.gov.
The NCHS is a component of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). NCHS's mission is to provide statistical information
that will guide actions and policies to improve the health of the
American people. The CDC protects people's health and safety by
preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health
decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues;
and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local,
national, and international organizations.
1.Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. CDC Advance Data
Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults:
United States, 2002. May 27, 2004.