Objective: To investigate the prevalence of use of unconventional therapies in Italy, the main health problems associated with and the motivations for use of these therapies.
Methods: Questions about the use of unconventional therapies were inserted in a nation-wide survey conducted by face-to-face interviews with all members of sampled families by the National Institute of Statistics during four quarters of the years 1999-2000. Data presented here are based on the results of the first two quarters of the survey (September and December 1999) during which a representative sample of 30,000 Italian families (70,898 individuals) was interviewed.
Results: Almost 9 million people (15.6% of the Italian population) used at least one unconventional therapy during the period 1997-1999. Homeopathy was the most frequently used (8.2% of the population), followed by manual treatments (7%), herbal medicine (4.8%) and acupuncture (2.9%). Homeopathy was also quite commonly used by children (7.7% of Italian children). The main reason for use was concern about potential toxicity of "conventional medicine". The health problem most frequently treated with all kinds of unconventional therapies was pain.
Conclusions: Use of unconventional therapies has almost doubled since 1991. However, with 15.6% of the Italian population (9 million people) using at least one therapy, Italy ranks among the "light" users compared with other European countries. Homeopathy is the most frequently used therapy. The typical user is, as in other western countries, a highly educated woman aged 35-44 years and resident in the richest part of the country (north-eastern Italy).