Canadian Chiropractor

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Use of complementary, alternative health in children rising


February 18, 2015
By Mari-Len De


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Children, aged four to 17, are increasingly using a variety complementary and alternative health care, according to a new report by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, formerly NCCAM).

A new report based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that while the overall use of complementary health approaches among children did not change significantly since the 2007 survey, there were significant increases in the use of yoga, fish oil and melatonin for children.

The report, by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH; formerly NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears in National Health Statistics Reports.

In Canada, a similar trend has been observed. In a study published in January 2013 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers have found the use of complementary and alternative health care such as vitamins, homeopathy and chiropractic is common among children with chronic conditions.

In fact, complementary health is high among pediatric cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, oncology and respiratory patients, according to the study, which surveyed parents about the use of complementary and alternative medicines at specialty clinics in Edmonton and Ottawa.

Massage therapy and chiropractic are the top two most common therapies parents used for their children, the study also said.

The U.S. survey about use of complementary and alternative health among children is part of the questionnaire developed by NCCIH and the NCHS. The questionnaire is administered every five years as part of the NHIS, an annual study in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. To identify trends in Americans’ use of certain practices, 2012 survey data were compared with a version of the survey fielded in 2007. The 2007 and 2012 survey results are based on combined data from 17,321 interviews with a knowledgeable adult about children aged 4 to 17 years.

The complementary health approach most commonly used by children was natural products (nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements) at almost one-quarter the adult rate (4.9 per cent vs. 17.7 per cent). Echinacea was the most commonly used supplement in 2007, while fish oil was the most commonly used supplement in 2012.

Melatonin ranked as the second most commonly used natural product among children. The use of melatonin among children increased significantly – from 0.1 per cent in 2007 to 0.7 per cent in 2012.

There was a statistically significant increase in the use of movement therapies – which included yoga, tai chi, and qi gong – between 2007 (2.5 per cent) and 2012 (3.2 per cent). Most of this increase can be attributed to the increased use of yoga – approximately 400,000 more children used yoga since 2007.

Among children who used any complementary health approach, 44.2 per cent used it to treat a specific health problem or condition in 2007 compared with 45.6 per cent in 2012. In 2012, acupuncture had the highest percentage reporting use for treating a condition (70.1 per cent).

In 2012, as in 2007, complementary health approaches were most often used among children for back or neck pain, head or chest cold, other musculoskeletal conditions, anxiety/stress, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The researchers noted that although the use of complementary health approaches in children, both overall and for individual modalities, is low compared to that seen in adults, these findings provide the most comprehensive snapshot of the use of these approaches and are the foundation for future studies in this area.