Reports: At Least 30% of U.S. Adults Now Use Alternative Medicine
The word is out: yoga and meditation are excellent ways of dealing with stress, pain, and other woes. Impressively, it seems people are accepting this reality, as a government survey recently revealed that more U.S. adults and young people are practicing these forms of complementary medicine.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health, says in 2 reports released November 8 that more than 30% of U.S. adults and about 12% of children use “healthcare approaches that are not typically part of conventional medical care or that may have origins outside of usual Western practices.”
These approaches include yoga, meditation, and chiropractic care.
Richard Nahin, the lead epidemiologist at the (NCCIH) and co-author of the reports, said:
“Many people turn to complementary health approaches, such as yoga and meditation, in order to help with symptom management, such as pain. As well, they turn to these approaches for a general sense of wellbeing.”
The reports were compiled using data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health Interview Survey, looking at the use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors between 2012 and 2017.
The results show:
- The overall number of U.S. children practicing yoga increased from 3.1% in 2012 to 8.4% in 2017, equating to about 4.9 million children in 2017.
- The overall number of U.S. adults practicing yoga rose from 9.5% in 2012 to 14.3% in 2017, equating to about 35.2 million adults in 2017.
- Meditation among children increased from 0.6% of children in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017.
- Meditation among adults increased from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2017.
- The use of chiropractors in children remained about the same – about 3.5% of children visited a chiropractor in 2012 and 2017.
- The use of chiropractors among adults rose slightly, from 9.1% in 2012 to 10.3% in 2017.
- More females than males are doing yoga in both age groups: 11.3% of girls, compared with 5.6% of boys, and 19.8% of women, compared with 8.6% of men.
- More adult women than men favored meditation and chiropractors than men, but in children, the rates of use between boys and girls were similar.
- Children between 12 and 17 were the most likely to meditate or visit a chiropractor.
- Among adults, yoga was most popular among 18- to 44-year-olds.
- Meditation and chiropractors were used most by adults 45 to 64 years old.
- Non-Hispanics were the most likely to use yoga, meditation, and chiropractors in both age groups.
The report states:
“The popularity of meditation surpassed that of seeing a chiropractor to become the second most-used approach among those examined in 2017.”
Nagin said all 3 methods of complementary medicine provide health benefits. Yoga is linked with an improved sense of wellbeing, and a growing body of research suggests it can help with some aspects of wellness, including mental health and stress management. The practice, which helps with flexibility, may also relieve lower back pain and neck pain.
And while meditation is known for helping people to deal with stress, Nahin notes there is evidence the practice can also help with medical problems, including symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It may also help with chronic pain.
Chiropractic care could help lower back pain and neck pain associated with injuries such as whiplash-associated disorders.
In a press release, NCCIH acting director David Shurtleff said:
“The survey data suggest that more people are turning to mind and body approaches than ever before.” 
Two of the report authors, Tainya Clark and Lindsey Black, said they’re not sure what fueled the increases, but they point to the growing popularity of cellphone meditation and yoga apps and the fact that many companies and schools are offering meditation and yoga programs for employees and students.
Megan Jones Bell, chief science officer at Headspace, a cellphone meditation app, remarked:
“Something really special is happening with our culture at a time when we need it most. At a time when mental health problems are on the rise, something that improves focus and compassion is certainly something the world needs more of.”
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.