Patterns of complementary and alternative medicine use in African Americans

Carolyn M Brown, Jamie C Barner, Kristin M Richards, Thomas M Bohman
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Research on Paradigm, Practice, and Policy 2007, 13 (7): 751-8

OBJECTIVES: This study sought to determine (1) characteristics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) users in the African-American (AA) population; (2) the prevalence of CAM use; and (3) CAM use for treatment and prevention of disease.

DESIGN: The authors analyzed data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included 4256 AA adults representing 23,828,268 AA adults nationwide. Chi-squared tests based on weighted data were used to examine differences in CAM users and nonusers.

OUTCOME MEASURES: CAM use was categorized as CAM Ever, CAM Past 12 Months, and CAM for Treatment.

RESULTS: A total of 23,828,268 (weighted) AAs were identified in the NHIS dataset. Of those, 67.6% used CAM in the past 12 months, when prayer for health was included. Users were more likely older (43.3 +/- 0.4 versus 39.5 +/- 0.5 years; p < 0.0001); female (60.9% versus 44.0%; p < 0.0001), college educated (17.4% versus 9.8%; p < 0.0001); and insured (91.0% versus 88.1%; p < 0.0001) compared to nonusers. Prayer was the most common CAM used by more than 60% of respondents, followed by herbals (14.2%) and relaxation (13.6%). A majority utilized CAM to treat illness. The use of CAM was significantly (p < 0.0001) higher across all the disease states common in AAs compared to nonuse.

CONCLUSIONS: A substantial number of AAs use CAM, with use varying across sociodemographic characteristics. Prayer was the most commonly used therapy. Overall, CAM was most often used for the treatment of specific conditions as opposed to prevention, and its use was common among AAs with prevalent disease states. The extent to which CAM served as a complement or an alternative to conventional medical treatment among AAs is unknown and should be investigated.

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