Why do some people practice yoga or go for acupuncture treatments, while other people don’t? Instead of focusing on those who make use of alternative medicine, a new study from San Francisco State University looks at those who do not. People with less education and lower incomes, the researchers say, are less likely to know about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including natural products and chiropractic medicine.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. Respondents included 23,393 adults who answered questions on 36 CAM practices used in the United States. The alternative health practices included 10 provider-based approaches (acupuncture, for instance, and traditional healers) and 26 self-care approaches (such as dietary supplements and yoga).

Analyzing the data, the researchers found more than 13,000 of the respondents reported never using acupuncture, chiropractic, natural products, or yoga — four of the most common CAM practices.

“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,” wrote the authors in their study.

Meanwhile, 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.

Costs of CAM

The original researchers behind the 2007 National Health Interview Survey found people spent, on average, $121.92 per person for visits to CAM providers and paid $29.37 out of pocket per visit.  Surprisingly, the highest per person costs were attached to naturopathy and chelation therapy, while chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation therapy had the lowest price tags.

For most CAM therapies, most adults spent less than $50 per visit. At least 20 percent of the visits for acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, massage, and hypnosis cost $75 or more.

Importantly, this survey was conducted eight years ago. It may no longer be the case that these same reasons for non-use of CAM — and the price tags attached to services — apply today. If we accept the reasons for not using natural products or seeking out an acupuncturist remain the same, the real question is how do alternative healthcare practitioners individually or collectively communicate their services to one and all? Could health knowledge be a matter of marketing as much as it is a matter of education?

Source: Burke A, Nahin RL, Stussman BJ. Limited health knowledge as a reason for non-use of four common complementary health practices. PLOS ONE. 2015.