MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

The aim of this paper was to systematically review surveys of 12-month prevalence of homeopathy use by the general population worldwide. Studies were identified via database searches to October 2015. Study quality was assessed using a six-item tool. All estimates were in the context of a survey which also reported prevalence of any complementary and alternative medicine use. A total of 36 surveys were included. Of these, 67% met four of six quality criteria.

Twelve-month prevalence of treatment by a homeopath was reported in 24 surveys of adults (median 1.5%, range 0.2–8.2%). Estimates for children were similar to those for adults. Rates in the USA, UK, Australia and Canada all ranged from 0.2% to 2.9% and remained stable over the years surveyed (1986–2012). Twelve-month prevalence of all use of homeopathy (purchase of over-the-counter homeopathic medicines and treatment by a homeopath) was reported in 10 surveys of adults (median 3.9%, range 0.7–9.8%) while a further 11 surveys which did not define the type of homeopathy use reported similar data. Rates in the USA and Australia ranged from 1.7% to 4.4% and remained stable over the years surveyed. The highest use was reported by a survey in Switzerland where homeopathy is covered by mandatory health insurance.

The authors concluded that each year a small but significant percentage of these general populations use homeopathy. This includes visits to homeopaths as well as purchase of over-the-counter homeopathic medicines.

These data thus indicate that the percentage of the adult general population using homeopathy over the previous 12 months was in the range of 0.7–9.8%, with a median estimate of 3.9%, and the percentage accessing treatment by a homeopath over the previous 12 months was in the range of 0.2–8.2%, with a median estimate of 1.5%. The data also suggest that, over the last few decades, use of homeopathy has remained fairly stable. These facts are in sharp contrast to the claims by homeopaths that:

  • Homeopathy is hugely popular.
  • Homeopathy is being used by more and more people across the globe.
  • Homeopathy is the medicine of the future.

The well-documented and undeniable unpopularity of homeopathy begs the question, I think, why so many people seem to get so excited about homeopathy. The level of usage is nothing to write home about! Therefore, why don’t we just put it down to an aberration like believing the earth is flat? Why don’t we just concede that some minor, harmless stupidity will always exist in some people’s minds?

Here are some reasons why:

  • It is not about the amount of people using homeopathy, but about the principle that any of the increasingly scarce public funds for healthcare are wasted on something as irrational and useless as homeopathy.
  • Homeopathy makes a mockery of EBM.
  • Homeopathy and homeopaths are by no means harmless.
  • Homeopaths tell too many lies to be allowed to get away with them.
  • Homeopathy and its followers systematically undermine rational thought.

 

 

32 Responses to The UNpopularity of homeopathy worldwide

  • I note the 1998 9.8% figure for homeopaths plus OTC in the UK stated in the report. Now I know where Kent Woods (MHRA) got his 10% figure from in 2010. We of course have the 2014 European social survey figure of 1.3% for the usage of homeopathy in the preceeding 12 months in the UK which has been reported on this blog. However, wasn’t the figure stated for visiting GPs in the previous 12 months stated in this 2015 survey as only 24% ? That doesnt mean to say that only 24% of the general public use conventional medicine. I would be surprised if it was less than 95%. The 24% figure does not include the potential use of GPs which would be close to 100%.
    The 1.3% figure now being quoted for use of homeopathy in the UK I think is therefore much higher in the UK and does not include a potential usage of homeopathy. Much of the data collected in this 2017 report also has no baseline to compare with usage of conventional medicine. ie many persons may not have used conventional medicine over a time period therfore a figure may be much lowers than 95-100%. That does not mean to say that they dont believe in it or wouldnt use it. The same applies to homeopathy surely?
    I think the turnover of the homeopathic pharmacies would justify that use of homeopathy in the UK and elsewhere is much more than for 1.3% (or thereabouts) – Look for yourself on the public records for turnover for UK Pharmacies for example.
    All this data (mostly historic) should be assessed against a baseline for the use of conventional tretament over the same time period in order to get a more accurate figure to include the potential use of homeopathy.

  • Relton et al. identified six UK surveys of homeopathy use from 1986 to 2005. It considered three categories:

    a) Treatment by a homeopath: includes survey estimates of one or more ‘visits to’ or ‘consultations with’ a homeopath.
    b) All homeopathy use (OTC and treatment by homeopath): includes survey estimates of use of homeopathic medicines purchased OTC and treatment by a homeopath.
    c) Homeopathy use (not defined): survey does not define whether estimate refers to treatment by a homeopath or OTC use or both.

    There are lots of caveats about methodology, etc, but I’ve charted the results, adding in the 2014 European Social Survey figure of 1.3%. I calculated the OTC use by subtracting a) from b) – I can’t see that there are any other likely sources of use. For the same reason, I also can’t see the difference between b) and c). It also seems likely that any survey that did not carefully define what was meant by ‘homeopathy’ could well have resulted in an over-estimate of homeopathy use because of the inclusion of things like herbal or home remedies being seen as homeopathy in the mind of the general public. I can’t see that it would go the other way: someone who has visited a homeopath or bought OTC homeopathic products are unlikely to have been unaware that that was homeopathy.

    As ‘1.3%?Youare’avingalaugh! ‘ says, it could be that Prof Woods was relying on that 9.8% figure when he said in his evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Evidence Check on homeopathy:

    From the point of view of evidence, certainly from a regulatory perspective, it is very important evidence that something like ten per cent of the population have used a homeopathic remedy or have gone to a homeopath in the previous 12 months, and that I think is a starting point for deciding what is the public health significance of this phenomenon.

    However, this figure is now nearly 20 years out of date and would appear to have been an outlier anyway.

    I think the argument about the numbers who visited a GP is misleading: the question asked about homeopathy was clear. However, the ESS UK data gives the (weighted) percentage of those who discussed their health with their GP in 2014 as 74%, not 24%. It was not a question about use of conventional treatments.

    It is unlikely that looking at pharmacy (or even manufacturers) turnover would help: they are all private companies and do not in general disclose their turnover. Even if they did, a confounding factor would be that many also sell a wide range on non-homeopathic products. Good examples of these are Weleda and Nelsons who manufacture and sell a wide range of skin creams and other beauty products. Also, to obtain a figure for prevalence of use, the data from all homeopathic pharmacies would have to be known, not just one or two.

    • excellent, important points; thank you.

      • Edzard

        “The data also suggest that, over the last few decades, use of homeopathy has remained fairly stable.”

        Two decades as Chair of Complementary ………………….. writing scientific papers to disprove homeopathy and your report card reads:

        “The data also suggest that, over the last few decades, use of homeopathy has remained fairly stable.”

        No one paid attention to your writings in these 11 countries during past 20 years?

        What is the new strategy?

  • If you search Data set ESS7-2014 ed 2.1 Treatment used 12 month homeopathy
    you get 4.5% out of 1800 marked with 38385 not marked.
    Is this is the weighted figure for homeopathy?
    It would seem about right.

  • Thank you Alan, I agree with you. However, I have an issue with the accuracy of the data collected from these kind of surveys. Please consider the following.

    The 2014 European Social Survey as posted on the Nightingale Collaboration website shows a weighted figure of 3.0% for homeopathy use in the previous 12 months in Spain.

    Yet when in the latest biannual survey carried out by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (Fecyt) on popular perceptions of science in the country, 6,300 Spaniards were asked if they agreed with the statement ‘Do homeopathic products work’ 52.7% said yes!
    http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/04/21/inenglish/1492781093_629543.html
    So in Spain apparently 3.0% use homeopathy and 52.7% think it works!
    To me this suggests that we cannot entirely rely on data collected from these type of questions.
    Therefore I still think that there are questions as to whether the 1.3% for UK can be justified.

    • The data for the charts on the Nightingale Collaboration website were obtained from the ESS data and are easily verified.

      The questions asked in those two surveys are completely different. The number of people who believe that astrology works might well be high, but that does not mean that the number who rely on their horoscope to guide their decisions in life would also be high. The fact that you find the relative size of the two Spanish numbers surprising is irrelevant.

      I have not looked at the survey mentioned in the El Pais article you linked to but I note it says:

      Homeopathic remedies can be bought in pharmacies in Spain and are often recommended by pharmacists themselves, which possibly contributes to the trust people place in them.

      There could well be any number of other confounding factors that make any attempt to make any inference from the situation in Spain to that of the UK completely unreliable.

      Unfortunately, Relton et al. did not find any Spanish studies so it would appear that all we have are the ESS data that gives 3% the prevalence of use in Spain.

      Additionally, the 1.3% figure for the UK, although about half the figure for 2005 (Hunt 2010), may well be unsurprising given the spotlight that has been shone on the unevidenced claims made homeopaths in the last decade. The 96% fall in NHS prescriptions dispensed in community pharmacies in England may also be an indicator that homeopathy generally is in steep decline.

  • Alan Henness says: ‘
    ‘The fact that you find the relative size of the two Spanish numbers surprising is irrelevant.’

    I repeat that the figures in Spain were 3.0% use homeopathy and 52.7% think homeopathy works.

    I think quite a few people would find the relative sizes of the Spanish numbers very surprising from the 2 questions asked.

    • 1.3%or52.7%?Youare’avingalaugh said:

      I repeat that the figures in Spain were 3.0% use homeopathy and 52.7% think homeopathy works.

      Yes, you already said that. That those surveys provided those numbers is not in dispute.

      I think quite a few people would find the relative sizes of the Spanish numbers very surprising from the 2 questions asked.

      Why?

      • 52.7%- 3.0% =49.7%

        The fact that you find the relative sizes of the Spanish numbers unsurprising is irrelevant.

        That is an enormous difference which I dont think you have explained very well. I think that most people would agree with me that these figures are surprising. Maybe some your friends will support you on this? Bring it on.

        • AlanHenness?Youare’avingalaugh! said:

          52.7%- 3.0% =49.7%

          What a bizarre ‘calculation’. Do you really think that makes any sense?

          The fact that you find the relative sizes of the Spanish numbers unsurprising is irrelevant.

          I have not expressed a view on whether I find the figures surprising or otherwise: it was you who seemed to find them surprising. I have been trying to help you understand why you might want to question your conclusion – I have tried to provide some views on why your inference may not be valid, but you have still not provided a cogent argument as to why either or both figures are unreliable as you claimed.

          That is an enormous difference which I dont think you have explained very well.

          I have nothing to explain here: you made the claim so it’s up to you to provide the evidence and argument.

          I think that most people would agree with me that these figures are surprising.

          That others may find the figures as surprising as your do is equally irrelevant: even unanimous surprise does not change whether or not the numbers are valid.

          Maybe some your friends will support you on this? Bring it on.

          Bizarre.

          However, you originally seemed to be questioning whether the 1.3% for the UK was justified. Any progress on that?

  • Ok Alan. I have given you the evidence. In Spain in 2017 52.7% think that homeopathy works according to the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology.
    Bad luck

    • 1.3%?Youare’avingalaugh said:

      Ok Alan. I have given you the evidence. In Spain in 2017 52.7% think that homeopathy works according to the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology.
      Bad luck

      Sigh. Yes, you’ve given that lone figure, but what you have not provided is any argument or evidence for the relationship between that number and the ESS survey prevalence figure nor for any connection to the UK figure. Can you provide anything, or is it just your surprise at it we have to go on? Or is it that you don’t understand what argument and evidence are? Shall we go round in circles one more time?

  • Sigh 10M,
    Just keeping it nice and simple for you Alan.
    This blog post was about the UNpopularity of Homeopathy Worldwide.
    I have supplied evidence from one study that 52.7% in Spain believe homeopathy works when another study suggests that 3.0% are users.
    You are ignoring this huge difference.
    Your lack of ability to think critically is obvious.

    Bizarre

    • I guess that ~80% of the general population might believe that chemotherapy works;
      but perhaps only 5% are users.
      YOUR LACK OF ABILITY TO THINK LOGICALLY IS OBVIOUS.

      • Edzard said:

        YOUR LACK OF ABILITY TO THINK LOGICALLY IS OBVIOUS.

        Indeed. I have tried but you there’s only so much anyone can do. A course in logic and simple argumentation might be useful.

        • I cant wait for the Nightingale Collaboration to produce one!

          • I can’t wait for you to reply to this:

            Dr. Rawlins, the problem is that you don’t know for certain that homeopathic remedies do not have a medicinal effect. (See: Robert Mathie’s study)

            Therefore, if it is not certainly known that remedies are pure placebos, why should homeopaths state that they are?

            You have not addressed this:
            Greg on Thursday 13 April 2017 at 06:53

            Dr Rawlins, please go through these comments and explain:

            10 April

            Greg: After a lifetime of investigating homeopathy, Edzard should be able to provide a concise ‘head of argument’ for the case against homeopathy. Perhaps he could also try to do this in a dispassionate scientific manner to support his prosecutorial rhetoric: homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals, ‘kill your entire family’ (see your listed article above).

            What if his case is wrong? Perhaps he would not feel any sense of shame for insulting so many people?

            Dr Rawlins: ‘Homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals.’
            What evidence is there that they are not?

            Greg: Dr Rawlins, I would not have thought of you as the type of person to jump into this with your statement:
            ‘Homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals.’
            What evidence is there that they are not?

            What if the model and method of ‘investigating’ homeopathy is wrong? I have stated several times on this site that I consider the method (RCT) and model allopathic/clinical homeopathy used in most of the investigations into homeopathy are likely to fail P=F.

            If someone devises a way to test homeopathy properly and evidence of efficacy is found, what will you say then?

            Greg: Crimen injuria is a crime under South African common law, defined to be the act of “unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another. (Wikipedia)

            Does this law apply in the UK?

            11 April
            Dr Rawlins:
            I made no allegations.
            I was quoting another post.
            That is why my comment was in quotation marks.
            I have no idea whether any homeopath is ignorant, corrupt, a quack, charlatan, fraud or criminal.
            Do you?
            How do we tell?

            We are dealing here with probabilities and likelihoods, That’s why a proper scientific approach is necessary.
            Which is more likely, that homeopaths are ignorant, quacks or frauds – or that they have discovered a quite remarkable phenomenon which requires all current knowledge of natural sciences to be set aside?
            Which do you think more likely?

            Dr Rawlins: No – nor in SA either.
            Folks in the categories we are considering here have no dignity which can be impaired.

            End of quotes

            The conflicting statements in the text are:

            I have no idea whether any homeopath is ignorant, corrupt, a quack, charlatan, fraud or criminal.
            Folks in the categories we are considering here have no dignity which can be impaired.
            What evidence is there that they are not?

            These statements appear inconsistent, please would you clarify, thank you.

          • @Greg:

            Greg: Crimen injuria is a crime under South African common law, defined to be the act of “unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another. (Wikipedia)

            Does this law apply in the UK?

            As the saying goes, if the facts are against you, argue the law.

  • Edzard wrote the blogpost about the ‘Unpopularity of Homeopathy Worldwide’ correctly quoting low figures. Then I quoted the 52.7% believing in homeopathy.
    Chemotherapy is a prescribed critical intervention which homeopathy is not. Therefore an illogical comparison by Edzard.
    Also the comparison with chemotherapy with Edzard’s invented figures is ironic especially when both Edzard and Alan are always calling for evidence. At least I didn’t just make the 52.7% figure up.

  • Thank you for your advice Edzard on learning some basic logic. Like many I may well benefit from revisiting this. You might too.
    I wonder though if you can see any irony in your illogical chemotherapy comparison with homeopathy where you just invented data?
    Congratulations though on your recent imaginary and entertaining ‘Chat with a Homeopath’ Blog Post.

    • it was not a comparison but an example deliberately exaggerated for everyone to see the point I wanted to make.
      I did not need imagination for the ‘chat’ post – I have had such discussions many, many times in the past and only needed to summarise them.

    • Alan&Edzardnow’avingalaugh! said:

      Thank you for your advice Edzard on learning some basic logic. Like many I may well benefit from revisiting this. You might too.

      If you’ve spotted a fallacy I’ve committed, please feel free to point it out.

  • No need to explain yourself Edzard. I don’t think that the logic police will take action against you.

    As you you Alan I don’t think it is possible that you could ever produce a logical fallacy. You are therefore of course always correct about everything.

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