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More Kids Are Doing Yoga and Using Natural Remedies Like Melatonin and Fish Oil, Report Says

Health + Wellness

A new government report shows that 1 in 9 children in the U.S. (11.6 percent) are using complimentary therapy to stay healthy, an amount that has not changed in five years.

Most of those who practiced yoga in 2012—more than 900,000 children—included meditation, deep-breathing exercises, or both.

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What has changed since the report was last conducted in 2007: kids are doing a lot more yoga and taking more melatonin, a plant-based sleep aid. Many of the other types of natural healing included in the National Institutes of Health survey—chiropractic care, and use of herbal remedies and supplements—are being used in similar amounts by kids as they were five years ago.

“One of beauties of this survey us that it allows us to make estimates of actual use,” said Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, in a media presentation. Dr. Nahin, one of the authors of the report, is the Senior Advisor for Scientific Coordination and Outreach at the National Institutes of Health.

While the report found that children used complementary health approaches about the same amount in 2007 (12 percent) and 2012 (11.6 percent), they used traditional healers less often (down from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 0.1 percent in 2012), and the number of kids doing yoga increased significantly during the same period—up from 2.3 percent in 2007, or 1.3 million kids, to 3.1 percent in 2012, or 1.9 million kids.

Most of those who practiced yoga in 2012—more than 900,000 children—included meditation, deep-breathing exercises or both. However, only one-third of children who practiced yoga had taken a class or received training in the past 12 months. The report also found that girls were more likely to do yoga, tai chi or qi gong in the past 12 months (4.2 percent) compared with boys (1 percent).

Among the other therapies measured, herbal remedies (defined as “nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements”), chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and yoga, tai chi or qi gong were most commonly used in 2007 and 2012. In both surveys, these therapies were most frequently used in the last 30 days for back or neck pain, head or chest cold, anxiety or stress, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

The survey results showed changes in the most common natural remedies used, reflecting new trends in the popularity of certain supplements for children. Specifically, echinacea was the most commonly used supplement in 2007, while fish oil became most common in 2012. Also, the use of melatonin in kids skyrocketed by 700 percent in five years, from .1 percent in 2007 to .9 percent in 2012.

Some trends found in the report reflect social and economic disparities among parents giving their children natural therapies. Non-Hispanic white children were more likely than Hispanic and black children, and children with private health insurance more likely than children with public coverage to use the most common therapies.  In 2012, children with parents who had at least a high school diploma were seven times more likely to use any complementary treatments (15 percent) as children whose parents did not have a high school diploma (2.1 percent).

Finally, older children (aged 12–17) were more likely to use complementary therapies (15 percent) compared with younger children (9 percent of those aged 4–11). These trends were seen in both 2007 and 2012.

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