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Children's Health

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12% of Kids Use Complementary/Alternative Medicine

Echinacea Most Common Complementary and Alternative Treatment Given to Children
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 10, 2008 -- Thirty-eight percent of adults and 12% of children use complementary and alternative medicine, new data from a nationwide government survey show.

The survey marks the first time information on the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by children has been collected at the national level.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health and the CDC asked more than 23,000 adults about their use and 9,400 adults about their children’s use of 36 non-vitamin or mineral CAM therapies, including herbal supplements, acupuncture, visits to chiropractors, massage therapy, mediation, and even yoga.

“I think this study highlights the growing acceptance of many of these therapies,” pediatrician Kathi Kemper, MD, MPH, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, tells WebMD.

Author of the book, The Holistic Pediatrician, Kemper says many treatments considered alternative just a few years ago, including probiotics for gastrointestinal complaints, are now widely recommended for children.

12% of Kids Use CAM

According to the survey findings:

  • 38% of adults and 12% of children 17 and under used some form of complementary and alternative medicine in 2007.
  • Children whose parents used CAM were five times more likely to use the therapies (24%) than children whose parents did not use them.
  • Echinacea, often used for colds, topped the list of oral supplements most often given to children, followed by fish oil, omega-3, or DHA; combination herb pills; and flaxseed oil or pills.
  • Children’s use of CAM increased as their parents' education level increased.

Use of CAM was higher among teenagers (16.4%) than among younger children (10.7%), and white children were more likely to use CAM (12.8%) than black (5.9%) and Hispanic (7.9%) children.

Regionally, children living in Western states were most likely to use CAM (14.4%); those living in the South were least likely to use them (8.8%).

“Children are generally much healthier than adults, so 12% usage can be seen as quite high,” says study co-author Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, acting director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s (NCCAM’s) Division of Extramural Research.

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