Although the use of complementary health approaches in children has not been studied extensively at the national level, available data suggest higher rates of use among children with chronic health conditions, including anxiety, musculoskeletal conditions, and recurrent headaches, compared with children without these conditions. Similar data have been seen in adult populations.
A group of researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Institutes of Health found that the use of complementary health approaches did not change significantly since 2007. “This report presents national estimates of the use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4 [to] 17 years in the United States,” the study authors explained. “Taken together, the breadth and depth of the 2012 [National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)] child supplement on complementary health approaches provides the most comprehensive snapshot of the use of these approaches.”
As part of this analysis, the investigators evaluated data from the 2007 and 2012 NHIS. The combined sample included 17,321 interviews with well-informed adults about children aged 4 to 17 years. In particular, they looked at the use of select modalities in the past 12 months; use of nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements in the past 30 days; and complementary health approaches used to treat health problems or conditions.
The first population-based estimate of children’s use of complementary health approaches was provided by the 2007 NHIS. The investigators sought to update the findings from 2007 to provide the most current and comprehensive picture of children’s use of complementary health approaches in the United States. In addition, the authors estimated the use of complementary health approaches by select demographic characteristics, and the use of complementary health approaches to treat specific conditions.
Overall, the investigators found that the use of complementary health approaches among children had not changed significantly since 2007 (12.0% in 2007 to 11.6% in 2012). However, they observed that the use of traditional healers significantly decreased (1.1% in 2007 to 0.01% in 2012), which may be due, in part, to questionnaire adjustments (ie, a decrease in the types of selectable traditional healers), they noted. No other significant decreases were identified.
An increase in the use of yoga during this time period (2.3% in 2007 to 3.1% in 2012) was also observed. In addition, nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; and yoga, tai chi, or qigong were among the most commonly used complementary health approaches in 2007 and 2012. The low cost and ability to be practiced in one’s own home may contribute to yoga’s growing popularity, the study authors noted. Public school systems are also beginning to incorporate yoga into their fitness programs. Furthermore, the investigators added that meditation as a part of movement therapies were more common among children than meditation alone.
There were also large decreases in the percentage of children who used nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements or homeopathy to treat specific health conditions, but no changes for all other approaches. Overall, there was not much change in the top diseases or conditions treated with complementary health approaches. Complementary approaches in 2007 and 2012 were most frequently used for back or neck pain, head or chest cold, anxiety or stress, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
“The descriptive statistics and highlights presented in this report are the foundation for future studies of complementary health approaches,” the study authors concluded.
Black LI, Clarke TC, Barnes PM, et al. Use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4-17 years in the United States: National Health Interview Survey, 2007-2012. Natl Health Stat Report. 2015;(78):1-19.