Individuals with lower education levels and incomes are less likely to know about alternative therapies, such as yoga, acupuncture, natural products, and chiropractic medicine, according to new research at San Francisco State University (SF). The study was designed to analyze trends among people who do not use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
“It’s very important to know why somebody is not doing a particular behavior,” said Adam Burke, professor of health education and director of SF State’s Institute for Holistic Health Studies.
“If your child isn’t eating broccoli and you want him to, you need to know why. If it’s just a matter of the pieces being too big, you can cut it up. But if you don’t know why, the child will not eat the broccoli.”
The research, based on the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, involved data from more than 13,000 participants who reported never having used acupuncture, chiropractic, natural products, or yoga — four common CAM practices.
Lack of knowledge as a reason for not using these therapies was strongly linked to lower education levels and income. Those who attended college were 58 percent less likely to indicate lack of knowledge as a reason for non-use, and individuals with higher incomes were 37 percent less likely.
“The implication of this study is that the lack of access to health knowledge is a root of health inequity,” Burke said. “If you are poor, you have less access to health information for a variety of reasons.”
The findings also showed that physical activity levels tend to correlate with knowledge. People who described themselves as less physically active were significantly more likely to have less knowledge of all four complementary practices.
One surprising finding was that the results held true for survey respondents who experienced lower back pain. Since back pain is the medical condition most commonly linked to use of complementary health treatments, the researchers hypothesized that back-pain sufferers would have greater knowledge about these treatments even if they chose not to use them, as their pain would compel them to learn about a variety of remedies. But they found that the association between lower education levels and lack of knowledge remained the same.
It’s especially important for people with back pain to know about CAM methods, Burke said.
“Often, the solution for chronic pain is addictive prescription medications, which are problematic in all communities, especially in lower-income communities,” Burke added. “Complementary methods have the potential to mitigate such addiction problems, and may help address the root problem rather than just managing the symptoms, which is a real benefit.”
The study findings indicate a greater need among clinicians to follow best-practice guidelines for sharing information about integrative practices, combining conventional western and CAM approaches, Burke said.
“It’s highly likely that a lack of knowledge prevents some individuals from using these integrative approaches — if they knew more, they would use them more,” Burke said.
“These are cost-effective treatments that have limited side effects and may actually help remediate people’s problems. Especially in lower-income communities, it is important for health care providers to recommend them.”
“Limited health knowledge as a reason for non-use of four common complementary health practices” by Adam Burke and co-authors Richard L. Nahin and Barbara J. Stussman of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health was published in PLOS ONE on June 17.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Source: San Francisco State University