People with lower incomes and educational levels less likely to know about CAM

New research from San Francisco State University, published this month in the journal PLOS ONE has shown that knowledge about complementary and alternative medicine is connected to education and income levels. According to the study, led by the Professor of Health Education, Adam Burke, people with lower educational levels and incomes are less likely to know about yoga, acupuncture, natural products and chiropractic medicine.

The researchers analysed data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, in which 23,393 adults answered questions about 36 CAM practices. The CAM practices were divided into 2 categories – provider-based and self-care. The survey included 10 provider-based approaches such as acupuncture and traditional healers and 26 self-care approaches, including dietary supplements and yoga.

Over 13,000 participants, more than half of those surveyed, reported that they had never used acupuncture, chiropractic, natural products or yoga. Of the 13,000 who had never used CAM, lack of knowledge as a reason for non-use was strongly associated with lower education levels and income. The authors of the study reported that: “Individuals with lower levels of educational attainment were more likely to choose the response option ‘lack of knowledge’ as a reason for non-use of common complementary health practices.” Those who attended college were 58 percent less likely to indicate lack of knowledge as a reason for not using CAM, and individuals with higher incomes were 37 percent less likely.

The researchers were surprised to find that these findings also held true for the participants surveyed who suffer from back pain. As back pain is the medical condition most commonly linked to use of complementary and alternative medicine, the researchers had hypothesized that back pain sufferers would possess an increased knowledge about relevant CAM treatments such as osteopathy and chiropractic. Even if they chose not to use CAM, it had been thought that their condition would compel them to learn about these treatments; however the researchers found that the relationship between lower education levels and lack of knowledge remained. Back pain did not appear to be a significant enough motivator to make the participants learn about relevant CAM options.

“The implication of this study is that the lack of access to health knowledge is a root of health inequity. If you are poor, you have less access to health information for a variety of reasons.” -Professor of Health Education, Adam Burke

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