Nearly 12 percent of children and teens in the U.S. use alternative medicine or treatments according to a first-of-its-kind government survey released today. It also found that families were more likely to turn to these unconventional approaches when they can't afford traditional care.
The report by the National Institutes of Health, http://nccam.nih.gov/ showed that parents most typically turned to alternative therapies to treat childrens back or neck pain, colds, anxiety or stress and attention deficit disorders, such as ADD.
Government researchers said that while some of the alternative products and practices used by parents and their children have shown some benefits in clinical trials, such as fish oil and chiropractic care, most lack the large-scale, scientific studies needed to confirm safety and effectiveness. The researchers said that is especially true for children.
"Over the years we expect to look more at this pediatric population and the benefits and risks for this population," said Richard L. Nahin, acting director of the division of extramural research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, one of the government agencies that conducted the survey
Dr. Sean Palfrey, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston Medical Center, estimates that about 30 percent of his patients seek alternative medicines for their children. He said the government survey suggests that parents reach for unconventional treatments when their children are struggling with chronic conditions, such as back and neck pain, colds, anxiety and attention deficit disorders.
"These are things that are multi-faceted, with many different causes that Western medicine doesn’t have one antibiotic or vaccine to make better, so people look around," Palfrey said.
The government's report focused on 36 diverse products and practices, such as herbal and other nonvitamin supplements, meditation, chiropractic and acupuncture, that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine.
While nearly 40 percent of adults in the survey reported using some sort of unconventional medicine or treatment in the past year, parents with higher incomes and higher education were more likely to seek unconventional approaches for themselves and their children.
The survey also compared usage among adults from 2002 to 2007 and found that, overall, the percentages have remained about steady -- 36 percent in 2002 and 38 percent in 2007. But there has been a substantial shift in the types of therapies, with a significant increase in the percentage of people using meditation, message therapy, yoga and deep breathing.
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