Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine and use among children in South Australia


Dr Caroline Smith, Centre for Allied Health Evidence, School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. Fax: +61 8 8362 6622; email:


Aim:  To determine the use of complementary and alternative medicines and therapies (CAM) and common treatment modalities in children.

Methods:  This is a cross-sectional, population-based survey of 2985 adult and 911 children aged 15 years or less, conducted in South Australia in Spring 2004. The outcome measures are CAM use in children in the previous 12 months.

Results:  Overall, the 12-month prevalence of CAM use in children was 18.4% (95% confidence interval 15.9–21.0). A wide variety of CAM modalities were used by children including ingestible therapies (33%), chiropractic (34%) and massage (20%). Common reasons for use of CAM were to prevent illness or to maintain health (39%) and for musculoskeletal conditions (22%), respiratory problems (20%) and skin complaints (18%). There was little difference in the use of CAM treatment modality across child ages.

Conclusion:  Approximately one in five children used CAM in the past 12 months in South Australia. Our findings further highlight the importance of increasing public awareness about the need to inform doctors and primary health-care providers of CAM use in children. Health professionals working with children should ask parents about their children’s use of CAM. There is a need for further research examining the safe and judicious use of CAM in children.