The usage patterns of alternative remedies and the ability of labels to educate consumers have been the focus of some recent scientific attention.
A study published in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior found that elderly blacks and Native Americans use more home remedies than elderly whites. Conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, the study looked at two types of home remedies—food-based and over-the-counter—and also found that more than 50 percent of all adults 65 and older practice home remedy use.
Joseph Grzywacz, assistant professor in family and community medicine at Wake Forest, said, "Home remedies, as well as other kinds of activities, were a fundamental part of just about everyone's overall health strategies. Our argument is that when people get sick, they try to treat themselves first, and if those things don't work they may see a doctor—or try another home remedy."
Younger blacks were even more likely to view conventional treatments less favorably and use home remedies, according to Grzywacz. He also said that a follow-up study has been designed to "find out what they are using and why. And part of that is, 'How did you come to learn about this? Where did [you] get the information?'"
Meanwhile, in the Jan. 2 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia , researchers found that more than 52 percent of the population uses complementary and alternative medicine and that nearly 27 percent visited some type of CAM therapist. This compares with a 2004 survey by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which found that 36 percent of Americans use CAM. The Australian study concluded, "The greatest users of CAMs are better-educated, higher income women in the 25?44 years age group living in a metropolitan area."
In November, the authors of a study first published in the summer 2005 issue of The Journal of Consumer Affairs were invited to present their findings to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a forum to "explore how dietary supplements are labeled and how the public understands current labeling and health claims."
The study on consumer interpretations of dietary supplement labels found that consumers tend to interpret information through pre-existing filters, according to the authors, Paula Bone, Ph.D., and Karen France, Ph.D., both marketing professors at West Virginia University. "This leads to a discounting of information that is inconsistent with existing beliefs. Hence, the labels are not effective in reaching goals of increasing consumer understanding in order to enhance decision making," France said.
In follow-up research, the authors intend to study what could make labels more effective.