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Report Advances Knowledge About Children’s Use of Complementary Approaches

© Matthew Lester

A new report based on data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that the overall use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4 to 17 years did not change significantly since the 2007 survey; however, there were significant increases in children’s use of yoga, fish oil, and melatonin. The report, by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH; formerly NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears in National Health Statistics Reports.

The complementary health questionnaire was developed by NCCIH and the NCHS. The questionnaire is administered every 5 years as part of the NHIS, an annual study in which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed about their health- and illness-related experiences. To identify trends in Americans’ use of certain practices, 2012 survey data were compared with a version of the survey fielded in 2007. The 2007 and 2012 survey results are based on combined data from 17,321 interviews with a knowledgeable adult about children aged 4 to 17 years.

Survey Highlights on Natural Products

  • The complementary health approach most commonly used by children was natural products (nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements) at almost one-quarter the adult rate (4.9 percent vs. 17.7 percent). Echinacea was the most commonly used supplement in 2007, while fish oil was the most commonly used supplement in 2012.
  • Melatonin ranked as the second most commonly used natural product among children. The use of melatonin among children increased significantly—from 0.1 percent in 2007 to 0.7 percent in 2012.

Survey Highlights on Mind and Body Practices

  • There was a statistically significant increase in the use of movement therapies—which included yoga, tai chi, and qi gong—between 2007 (2.5 percent) and 2012 (3.2 percent). Most of this increase can be attributed to the increased use of yoga (approximately 400,000 more children used yoga since 2007).
  • Only one approach, the use of traditional healers, significantly decreased among children between 2007 (1.1 percent) and 2012 (0.1 percent).

Other Survey Highlights

  • Among children who used any complementary health approach, 44.2 percent used it to treat a specific health problem or condition in 2007 compared with 45.6 percent in 2012. In 2012, acupuncture had the highest percentage reporting use for treating a condition (70.1 percent).
  • In 2012, as in 2007, complementary health approaches were most often used among children for back or neck pain, head or chest cold, other musculoskeletal conditions, anxiety/stress, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The researchers noted that although the use of complementary health approaches in children, both overall and for individual modalities, is low compared to that seen in adults, these findings provide the most comprehensive snapshot of the use of these approaches and are the foundation for future studies in this area.


  • Black LI, Clarke TC, Barnes PM, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4-17 years in the United States: National Health Interview Survey, 2007-2012. National health statistics reports; no 78. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.

Additional Resources

Publication Date: February 10, 2015