Background: Current estimates of pediatric complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use range from 10% to 15%. These estimates are derived from children sampled at health care facilities, with chronic conditions, and/or from countries other than the United States.
Objective: To provide a population-based estimate of the prevalence of pediatric CAM use in the United States.
Design: We used the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a nationally representative survey of the noninstitutionalized US population. The survey asks parents if their children used alternative care practitioners within the previous year. Our analysis included children younger than 18 years and accounted for the complex sampling design of MEPS.
Results: Weighted for the US population, pediatric CAM use was 1.8% (95% confidence interval, 1.3%-2.3%). Participants who used CAM were found in each age category, and the mean age was 10.3 years; 76.8% were white, 54% were female, 32% lived in the West, 66% lived in a metropolitan statistical area, and 36% lived at 100% to 199% of the poverty level. Bivariate chi2 analysis shows that CAM use increased with age (P =.006) and was twice as common in children not living in a metropolitan statistical area (P =.02).
Conclusions: The use of CAM among US children, as measured by the MEPS, is far less prevalent than has previously been asserted. With such disparate estimates, future CAM research efforts would benefit from a consensus regarding what practices constitute CAM and how these practices should be measured.