Women's reasons for complementary and alternative medicine use: racial/ethnic differences

Maria T Chao, Christine Wade, Fredi Kronenberg, Debra Kalmuss, Linda F Cushman
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Research on Paradigm, Practice, and Policy 2006, 12 (8): 719-22

OBJECTIVES: Although racial/ethnic differences in the prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) utilization have been documented, differences in the reasons for using CAM have not been empirically assessed. In an increasingly diverse society, understanding differences in rates of and reasons for CAM use could elucidate cultural and social factors of health behaviors and inform health care improvements. The current study examines reasons for CAM use among women in four racial/ethnic groups.

DESIGN: A national telephone survey of 3172 women aged 18 years and older was conducted in four languages. Respondents were asked about their use of remedies or treatments not typically prescribed by a medical doctor. This study focuses on those women who used CAM in the previous year and their reasons for using CAM.

RESULTS: Non-Hispanic white women were most likely to cite personal beliefs for CAM use. Cost of conventional medicine was most prevalent among Mexican-American women CAM users. Physician referral, family and friends, and media sources were all equally likely to lead to CAM use in non-Hispanic white women. In contrast, informal networks of family and friends were the most important social influences of CAM use among African-, Mexican-, and Chinese-American women.

CONCLUSIONS: Racial/ethnic differences in reasons for CAM use highlight cultural and social factors that are important to consider in public evaluation of the risks and benefits of CAM remedies and treatments.

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