Study to determine whether the use of complementary and alternative medicine is associated with health behaviors or risk factors known to impact health status.

Richard L Nahin1, James M Dahlhamer2,Beth L Taylor2, Patricia M Barnes2 ,Barbara J Stussman2, Catherine M Simile2, Marc R Blackman1, Margaret A Chesney1, Morgan Jackson1, Heather Miller1, and Kim K McFann1,3



Surveys have generally found that individuals more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine are female, live in the western United States, are likely to have a health complaint, and have a higher socioeconomic status than do nonusers. What is not known is the extent to which those who use complementary and alternative medicine also engage in positive health behaviors, such as smoking cessation or increased physical activity and/or exhibit fewer health risk factors such as obesity. This has been identified as a key research question in a recent Institute of Medicine report. In the present study we sought to determine whether the use of complementary and alternative medicine is associated with health behaviors or risk factors known to impact on health status.


The current study is a cross-sectional regression analysis using data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey. Data were collected in-person from 31,044 adults throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia.


After controlling for a range of other factors, we found that engaging in leisure-time physical activity, having consumed alcohol in one’s life but not being a current heavy drinker, and being a former smoker are independently associated with the use of CAM. Obese individuals are slightly less likely to use CAM than individuals with a healthy body-mass index. No significant associations were observed between receipt of an influenza vaccine and CAM use.


Those engaging in positive health behaviors and exhibiting fewer health risk factors are more likely to use CAM than those who forgo positive health behaviors or exhibit more health risk factors. The fact that users of CAM tend to pursue generally healthy lifestyles suggests that they may be open to additional recommendations toward optimizing their health.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

BMC Public Health. 2007; 7: 217.  Published online 2007 August 27. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-7-217.

© 2007 Nahin et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

1National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892-2182, USA

2National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Health Interview Statistics Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3311 Toledo Road, Hyattsville, MD 20782, USA

3Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center, Aurora, CO 80045-6511, USA