Supplement: A New Portrait of CAM Use in the United States

The most comprehensive and reliable findings to date on Americans’ use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) were released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). They came from the 2002 edition of the NCHS’s National Health Interview Survey, an annual study of Americans’ health- and illness-related experiences. The 2002 edition included detailed questions on CAM. It was completed by 31,044 adults aged 18 years or older from the U.S. civilian non-institutionalized population. [The full report is available at:]

CAM therapies included in the survey

The survey included questions on various types of CAM therapies commonly used in the United States. These included provider-based therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic, and other therapies that do not require a provider, such as natural products, special diets, and megavitamin therapy. The results were analyzed including and excluding two therapies: 1) prayer specifically for health reasons and 2) megavitamins—because earlier national surveys did not consistently include these therapies. Unless noted otherwise, the statistics are for CAM use during the 12 months prior to the 2002 survey.

How many people use CAM

In the United States, 36% of adults are using some form of CAM. When megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons are included in the definition of CAM, that number rises to 62%. (see figure 1.)

Who uses CAM most

Although CAM use spans people of all backgrounds, some people are more likely than others to use CAM. Overall, CAM use is greater by:

  • Women than men
  • People with higher educational levels
  • People who have been hospitalized in the past year
  • Former smokers, compared with current smokers or those who have never smoked

CAM domains/therapies used most

When prayer is included in the definition of CAM, the domain of mind-body medicine is the most commonly used domain (53%). When prayer is not included, biologically based therapies (22%) are more popular than mind-body medicine (17%).

Prayer specifically for health reasons was the most commonly used CAM therapy. (See figure 2.) Most people who use CAM use it to treat themselves, as only about 12% of the survey respondents sought care from a licensed CAM practitioner.

About 19% (or one-fifth) of the people surveyed used natural products.

Health conditions prompting CAM use

According to the survey, Americans are most likely to use CAM for back, neck, head, or joint aches, or other painful conditions; colds; anxiety or depression; gastrointestinal disorders; or sleeping problems. It appears that CAM is most often used to treat and/or prevent conditions involving chronic or recurring pain.

Reasons for using CAM

The survey asked people to select from five reasons to describe why they used CAM. Results were as follows (people could select more than one reason):

  • CAM would improve health when used in combination with conventional medical treatments: 55%;
  • CAM would be interesting to try: 50%;
  • Conventional medical treatments would not help: 28%;
  • A conventional medical professional suggested trying CAM: 26%;
  • Conventional medical treatments are too expensive: 13%.

The survey found that most people use CAM along with conventional medicine rather than in place of conventional medicine.

Source: Barnes P, et al. CDC Advance Data Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. May 27, 2004.

Alternative Medicine Alert, P.O. Box 740059, Atlanta, GA 30374. Copyright © 2004 by Thomson American Health Consultants. This is an educational publication designed to present scientific information and opinion to health professionals, to stimulate thought, and further investigation. It does not provide advice regarding medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual case. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of this publication. Mention of products or services does not constitute endorsement. Professional counsel should be sought for specific situations. The publication is not intended for use by the layman.