The continuing use of complementary and alternative medicine in South Australia: costs and beliefs in 2004

Alastair H MacLennan, Stephen P Myers and Anne W Taylor
Med J Aust 2006; 184 (1): 27-31.


Objective: To survey the use, cost, beliefs and quality of life of users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Design: A representative population survey conducted in 2004 with longitudinal comparison to similar 1993 and 2000 surveys.

Participants: 3015 South Australian respondents over the age of 15 years (71.7% participation).

Results: In 2004, CAMs were used by 52.2% of the population. Greatest use was in women aged 25–34 years, with higher income and education levels. CAM therapists had been visited by 26.5% of the population. In those with children, 29.9% administered CAMs to them and 17.5% of the children had visited CAM therapists. The total extrapolated cost in Australia of CAMs and CAM therapists in 2004 was AUD$1.8 billion, which was a decrease from AUD$2.3 billion in 2000. CAMs were used mostly to maintain general health. The users of CAM had lower quality-of-life scores than non-users. Among CAM users, 49.7% used conventional medicines on the same day and 57.2% did not report the use of CAMs to their doctor. About half of the respondents assumed that CAMs were independently tested by a government agency; of these, 74.8% believed they were tested for quality and safety, 21.8% for what they claimed, and 17.9% for efficacy.

Conclusions: Australians continue to use high levels of CAMs and CAM therapists. The public is often unaware that CAMs are not tested by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for efficacy or safety.

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  • Alastair H MacLennan1
  • Stephen P Myers2
  • Anne W Taylor3

  • 1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Adelaide, North Adelaide, SA.
  • 2 Australian Centre for Complementary Medicine Education and Research, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
  • 3 Population Research and Outcomes Unit, South Australian Department of Health, Adelaide, SA.


Competing interests:

Alastair MacLennan and Stephen Myers were members of the Australian Government’s Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines in the Australian Health System.

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