October 9, 2012

Complementary and alternative medicine use differs by race, economics

Use of complementary and alternative medicine differs by race and socioeconomic factors, study reports.

Although several national surveys have assessed the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) services, economically disadvantaged populations and minority populations have been underrepresented in most studies.

Yong Cui, M.D., M.S.P.H., staff scientist in the Division of Epidemiology, and colleagues examined the prevalence of CAM use among participants in the Southern Community Cohort Study – a large, on-going epidemiological study of racial health disparities in the United States. The researchers surveyed 50,176 African Americans (AAs) and 19,038 whites about use of services such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and herbal therapies from 2002 to 2009.


They found that CAM use was consistently higher among whites (11.7 percent) than AAs (8.5 percent) throughout the study period. CAM users were more likely to have higher education, higher household income and a history of chronic disease, regardless of race. Racial differences in CAM use were associated with age, gender, employment, alcohol use and cigarette smoking.

The findings, reported in the September Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, provide a more complete picture of CAM use among minority and economically disadvantaged groups.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute (CA092447, CA114641) of the National Institutes of Health.