Drawing from a long list of “alternative” medical therapies as diverse as the Atkins diet, acupuncture, homeopathy and prayer, federal health researchers reported that nearly two out of three Americans were using unconventional approaches to mend their bodies or maintain their health.
When prayer is dropped from the list, the federally funded survey found that 36 percent of Americans over the age of 18 used so-called complementary and alternative medicine.
“What we see is that a sizable percentage of the public puts their personal health into their own hands,” said Edward Sondik, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which carried out the survey.
A snapshot of American health care choices in 2002, the survey concluded that 8 percent of the nation’s adults visited chiropractors; 5 percent practiced yoga for health; 1.1 percent had acupuncture; and 1.7 percent employed homeopathy.
The wildly popular Atkins diet, one of several listed as therapies in the survey, was tried by only 1.7 percent of those surveyed — but the study was conducted in 2002, just as the national craze for high-protein, low- carbohydrate foods was igniting.
A frequent critic of the NIH alternative medicine program, Barrett said it made no sense to include activities such as prayer under the rubric of alternative medicine. “Praying for one’s own health is not an alternative medicine,” he said. “Everyone who prays, prays for their own health.”
Therapies such as massage, which are labeled as alternative medicine, are often used by mainstream medical practices, Barrett noted. Hypnosis and “progressive relaxation,” also on the survey list, are techniques used by conventional psychotherapists.
The federal survey broadened the previous academic work by including prayer in the alternative medicine mix. It found 43 percent of Americans had prayed for their own health during 2002; 24 percent reported that other people had prayed for them; and nearly 10 percent had been in a group that prayed for health.