Use of complementary and alternative medicine in healthy children and children with chronic medical conditions in Germany

Complement Ther Med. 2013 Apr:21 Suppl 1:S61-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2011.06.001. Epub 2011 Jul 8.


Objectives: Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in children is common and probably increasing. However little is known about differences between healthy and chronically ill children with a focus on prevalence, reasons for use/non-use, costs, adverse effects and socio-demographic factors.

Design: A questionnaire-based survey with 500 participants visiting the outpatient clinic of the University Children's Hospital Homburg, Germany was conducted over a 4-week period in 2004. Recruitment was stopped when 500 questionnaires were handed out in total.

Results: Of the 405 (81%) respondents (242 with chronic conditions, 163 healthy children incidentally visiting the hospital for minor ailments) 229 (57%) reported lifetime CAM use (59% with chronic conditions versus 53% healthy children). Among CAM users the most prevalent therapies were homeopathy (25%), herbal remedies (8%), anthroposophic medicine (7%), vitamin preparations (6%) and acupuncture (5%). The main reasons for use were to strengthen the immune system, physical stabilisation and to increase healing chances/maintain health. Socio-demographic factors associated with CAM use were tertiary education (mother: p=0.017; father: p>0.001), higher family income (p=0.001) and being Protestant (p=0.01). Expectations towards CAM were high and most parents would recommend certain CAM (94%). 79% of the users informed a physician about CAM use. Side effects were rarely reported (4%), minor and self-limiting.

Conclusions: Clinical care and the physician-patient relation would benefit from an enhanced understanding of CAM and a greater candidness towards the parental needs. The safety and efficacy especially of CAM with high prevalence rates should be determined in rigorous basic and clinical researches.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health*
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Reference Values
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires