12% of Kids Use Complementary/Alternative Medicine

Echinacea Most Common Complementary and Alternative Treatment Given to Children

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 10, 2008

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.

CAM Usage Among Adults

The latest survey suggests that use of most complementary and alternative medicine has neither increased nor declined significantly among adults over the past six years, Nahin tells WebMD.

An exception was mind-body therapies like acupuncture, deep breathing, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga, which were used by more adults in 2007 than in 2002.

As seen in earlier surveys, women were more likely than men to use CAM therapies, and higher education and higher income was associated with higher CAM usage among adults.

The survey also revealed that:

  • CAM usage increased with the number of chronic health issues. Adults who reported the most health problems were about 2.5 times more likely to use CAM therapies than adults who reported no health problems.
  • Fish oil, omega-3, or DHA topped the list of oral supplements used most often by adults, followed by glucosamine (used for joint pain), echinacea, flaxseed oil/pills, ginseng, combination herbal products, and ginkgo biloba.
  • About 13% of adults said they practiced deep breathing, 9% practiced meditation, and 6% practiced yoga. About 8% reported having therapeutic massages or seeing a chiropractor during the previous year.
  • Adults were more likely to use CAM when they could not afford conventional treatments.
  • Back pain was the most frequently cited reason for using CAM among adults (17%), followed by neck pain (6%), joint pain (5%), and arthritis (3.5%).

Nahin says conventional medicine often has little to offer people living with chronic pain conditions like back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

“People use CAM for many different reasons -- philosophy of wellness, cost, or to treat chronic conditions that are not helped by conventional treatments,” he says. “As we study these therapies it is important to keep this in mind.”

Show Sources


Barnes, P.M., ‘CAM Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007, NIH National Health Statistics Report, Dec. 10, 2008.

Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, acting director, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s Division of Extramural Research.

Kathi J. Kemper, MD, pediatrician, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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