Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Utilization in a College Sample: A Multisite Application of the Sociobehavioral Model of Healthcare Utilization

Kimberly M. Pratt, Utah State University

This work made publicly available electronically on October 30, 2012.


The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among U.S. college students and the general public is substantial and growing; however, research on the characteristics of college students who use CAM and the factors that influence their decision to use CAM is scarce. The present study applied the sociobehavioral model of healthcare utilization to the examination of CAM utilization in a sample of college students in the western U.S. A total of 592 college students from ages 18-52 from two universities within the western U.S. completed a web-based survey assessing the relationships between their demographic characteristics, health locus of control beliefs, religious and spiritual beliefs, and physical and mental health status and their lifetime and past 12-month use of CAM across five domains (alternative medicine systems, biologically based therapies, manipulative and body based treatments, mind-body iv medicine, and energy medicine). Statistically significant relationships were found between CAM use and biological sex, financial dependency status, internal health locus of control, mental health status, and bodily pain. These predictors were combined, along with college attended, according to the sociobehavioral model of healthcare utilization and tested for their predictive efficacy. One hundred percent of those surveyed reported use of at least one type of CAM practice within their lifetime, and 88% reported use of at least one type of CAM practice within the last year. The interventions used most by college students in this study were deep breathing exercises (50.7%), yoga (39.7%), massage (37.8%), meditation (35.8%), pilates (20.4%), and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation (20.1%). Moreover, they endorsed using these practices for the promotion of general wellness, improvement of psychological functioning, and alleviation of pain.

Multiple linear regression analyses of these variables revealed that their combination explained from 4.0% to 17.6% of the variance in CAM use in this sample. Results indicated that this model can be successfully applied to CAM use. These findings were evaluated and compared with previous findings regarding CAM use in both general population and college student samples. Specific implications for the fields of psychology, medicine, and health education within the areas of practice and research are discussed.