The use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are claimed to be associated with preventive health behaviors. However, the role of SCAM use in patients’ health behaviors remains unclear.
This survey aimed to determine the extent to which patients report that SCAM use motivates them to make changes to their health behaviours. For this purpose, a secondary analysis of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey data was undertaken. It involved 10,201 SCAM users living in the US who identified up to three SCAM therapies most important to their health. Analyses assessed the extent to which participants reported that their SCAM use motivated positive health behaviour changes, specifically: eating healthier, eating more organic foods, cutting back/stopping drinking alcohol, cutting back/quitting smoking cigarettes, and/or exercising more regularly.
Overall, 45.4% of SCAM users reported being motivated by SCAM to make positive health behaviour changes, including exercising more regularly (34.9%), eating healthier (31.4%), eating more organic foods (17.2%), reducing/stopping smoking (16.6% of smokers), or reducing/stopping drinking alcohol (8.7% of drinkers). Individual SCAM therapies motivated positive health behaviour changes in 22% (massage) to 81% (special diets) of users. People were more likely to report being motivated to change health behaviours if they were:
- aged 18-64 compared to those aged over 65 years;
- of female gender;
- not in a relationship;
- of Hispanic or Black ethnicity, compared to White;
- reporting at least college education, compared to people with less than high school education;
- without health insurance.
The authors concluded that a sizeable proportion of respondents were motivated by their SCAM use to undertake health behavior changes. CAM practices and practitioners could help improve patients’ health behavior and have potentially significant implications for public health and preventive medicine initiatives; this warrants further research attention.
This seems like an interesting finding! SCAM might be ineffective, but it motivates people to lead a healthier life. Thus SCAM has something to show for itself after all.
Except, there is another explanation of the results, one that might be much more plausible.
What if some consumers, particularly females who are well-educated and have no health insurance, one day decide that it’s time to do something for their health. Thus they initiate several things:
- they start using SCAM;
- they exercise more regularly;
- they eat more healthily;
- they consume organic food;
- they stop smoking;
- they stop boozing.
The motivation common to all these changes is their determination to do something about their health. Contrary to the authors’ wishful thinking, SCAM has little or even nothing to do with it. The notion was induced by SCAM practitioners who like to think that they play a role in disease prevention, by the leading questions of the interviewer, by recall bias, or by other factors..
What did the wise man say once upon a time?
CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!