MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

A recent survey included a random sample of 1179 Brits who were asked about their attitude towards and usage of homeopathy as well as other forms of alternative medicine (AM). The results indicate that a slim majority had never used AM at all. The most popular treatments within the group of AM-users were herbal medicines, homeopathy and acupuncture.

Perhaps because they are more up-to-date, these findings are considerably different from our own results obtained from the Health Survey for England 2005. We used data of all 7630 respondents and showed that lifetime and 12-month prevalence of AM-use were 44.0% and 26.3% respectively; 12.1% had consulted a practitioner in the preceding 12 months. Massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture were the most commonly used therapies. Twenty-nine percent of respondents taking prescription drugs had used AM in the last 12 months. Women, university educated respondents, those suffering from anxiety or depression, people with poorer mental health and lower levels of perceived social support, people consuming ≥ 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day were significantly more likely to use AM.

In the new survey, a quarter of those not using homeopathy said this was because they had never heard of it; a third because they had never been advised to use it and/or that they’d never had an illness that required it; and 3% said it was because homeopathic remedies were too expensive. About a quarter of non-users said that they avoided homeopathy because they didn’t believe that it worked, or that conventional medicine worked better.

Of the homeopathy-users, 49% said they were “willing to try anything and didn’t think it could do any harm”. Only 16% claimed to use it because they believed it worked better than conventional medicine. This means that only around 3% of the population have used homeopathy because of a belief that it works where conventional medicine doesn’t. The rest either have not used it, or used it for other reasons.

The researchers arrived at the following conclusions and predictions: Our research suggests that nearly half of the public don’t believe and act as if AM and conventional medicine are at odds. Coupled with the significant global industry that has grown up around AM, it is easy to see why politicians have been unwilling to respond to the clear evidence that homeopathy and AM are ineffective. In the US, it’s a $34bn industry where half of people report using them.

The competition between proponents and opponents of AM in all likelihood is set to continue. But there’s some evidence that better science education can help people to distinguish between scientific and pseudo-scientific claims, and it appears that at least some of the openness to AM might stem from concerns about how medical research is regulated. And it is these that might hold the key to who ultimately comes out of the ring in better shape.

3 Responses to What Brits really think about homeopathy

  • I wonder how this would change if instead of promoting revisionist views of the Great War, the education minster instead committed to a program teaching critical thinking in schools?

    50% of students are below average. We understand why, the 50% probably don’t. That’s a bit of a problem, really.

    • http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmeduc/uc1786-i/uc178601.htm

      Q97 Chair: Secretary of State, we are moving to a novel, new section: quick fire questions and answers, inspired by the Twitter feed #askgove-5,000-plus wanting to interact with you. So we are going to go round each of us in fairly strict timing. If you could give us quick answers, that would be great.

      Michael Gove: I will try my best.

      Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?

      Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.

      Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?

      Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.

      Q100 Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?

      Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

    • If critical thinking skills becomes part of the national curriculum it would empower school-leavers to see the nonsense in many government policies and the idiocy pointed out by Mojo.

      If critical thinking skills had been a mandatory element of the selection criteria for politicians then the idiocy pointed out by Mojo would not be occurring.

      Having a Secretary of State for Education who keeps trying to get more than 50% of a population above its median has, of course, enabled the UK to build a highly complex perpetual motion machine. This machine might eventually solve our green energy needs: it is currently producing plenty of hot air using only ignorance as its source of fuel.

      Teaching critical thinking in schools would empower the public to sabotage this wonderful machine — think of all the jobs that would be lost if that happened!

      I’m surprised Gove still hasn’t twigged that closing the worst-performing schools is making his problem rapidly worse for himself (because each closure raises the bar): he should be mandating the closure of the best-performing schools, duh!

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