Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Social-Cognitive Predictors of College Student Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Social-Cognitive Predictors of College Student Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Article excerpt


Background: Little research has addressed the prevalence and predictors of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use among undergraduate students. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to: (1) measure the prevalence and type of CAM use among a sample of college undergraduates, and (2) test the significance of select social-cognitive constructs and demographics as predictors of CAM use among a college population. Methods: A random sample of undergraduate students within the Texas A &M University system was solicited via e-mail to complete a web-based survey. Results: Findings show high rates of CAM use. Gender, attitude toward CAM, outcome expectancies regarding the health care encounter, and social network use of CAM were shown to be significant predictors of CAM use. Discussion: CAM use is popular among college students. Results from this study can inform health care and health education professionals interested in improving health care processes and addressing positive and negative issues related to CAM use. Translation to Health Education Practice: Health educators should be prepared to present CAM as health care options and discuss benefits and risks associated with CAM therapies. Researchers should continue to explore the psychosocial determinants of CAM use as a guide for health education and intervention.


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes diverse medical systems and practices that are currently categorized into five main domains: (1) alternative health care systems, (2) mind-body interventions, (3) biologically based therapies, (4) manipulative and body-based methods, and (5) energy/biofield therapies (Figure 1). (1-3) Their link to each other is their inclusion or exclusion from conventional medical practices. In studies conducted within the past decade, approximately 67% of adults were found to have used at least one CAM therapy in their lifetimes, while approximately 40-42% had used CAM within the past year. (4,5) Research shows that with each generation, the likelihood and frequency of CAM use among U.S. adults continues to grow. (6) In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 158 million American adults spent over $17 billion on CAM practices. (7) This resurgence of CAM use and research around the world is attributed to a holistic consumer health movement emphasizing multifaceted treatment of the whole person, disenchantment with conventional medical services, and changing policies regarding CAM. (8-11)

As each generation continues to use more CAM practices, improved health education is needed to benefit and protect the American people. Health educators have the opportunity and responsibility to help people make appropriate health care and health promotion choices. Educators must be adequately prepared to present CAM therapies as viable options and to help communities learn skills to determine the risks and truths associated with different treatments.

As CAM use has increased, so has research regarding it and its users. Studies show CAM users believe health care should concentrate on the whole person instead of just symptoms, and they perceive CAM therapies as more beneficial. (12-16) CAM users, especially younger people, have more positive attitudes toward CAM, which translate into greater enthusiasm and stronger intention to use CAM therapies. (17-19) The experience of others seems to increase the likelihood of CAM use, as CAM users have been shown significantly more likely to know someone who uses CAM or has received effective treatment. (12,13,15)

CAM studies have repeatedly demonstrated higher educational attainment as a consistently significant predictor of CAM use. (4) As such, college students are likely to be current or potential CAM users at a time when they are becoming increasingly responsible for their own health. In fact, college students have been shown to use CAM at rates higher than the general population. …

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