Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

M. Scott DeBerard


M. Scott DeBerard


Scott A. Bates


Susan L. Crowley


Michael P. Twohig


Julie A. Gast


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. Even fewer studies have explored such factors within the framework of an empirically supported theory. The college years are seen as an important time for developing long-lasting health behaviors and in many ways college students play an important role in setting the foundation for future healthcare. Thus, it is important for healthcare practitioners to have a clear understanding of what college students use CAM, why they use it, and what factors are influential to their decision to use CAM. This understanding will facilitate better assessment of CAM use, decrease risks of negative interaction effects between conventional medicine use and CAM use, and aide practitioners in guiding college students develop into well-informed healthcare consumers.

The present study applied the sociobehavioral model of healthcare utilization, a widely use model of understanding conventional medicine, to the examination of CAM utilization in sample of college students in the Western U.S. The project’s major aim was to evaluate the use of CAM practices within a college sample and to test the application of the empirical model of healthcare utilization to CAM use within this population. A total of 592 college students from ages 18-52 from two universities within the western U.S. completed a web-based survey assessing 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 medicine, and energy medicine). They also provided information regarding their demographic characteristic, frequency of use and reasons for use of these practices, health locus of control beliefs, religious and spiritual beliefs, and physical and mental health status.

Findings from this study demonstrated that a large percentage of college students in the western U.S. are using CAM practices. 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, yoga, massage, meditation, pilates, and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation. They reported using these practices for the promotion of general wellness, improvement of psychological functioning, and alleviation of pain.

CAM use was higher for individuals who were female, more financially independent, felt greater personality responsibility for their health, had poorer mental health, and experienced more bodily pain. These findings were evaluated and compared with previous findings regarding CAM use in both general population and college student samples. Eleven of these significant predictors were combined according to the sociobehavioral model of healthcare utilization and tested for their predictive efficacy. Results indicated that this model can be successfully applied to CAM use. Specific Overall this study confirms the view that the decision to use CAM is a process involving many factors and there is a clear need for future investigations in this area.




This work made publicly available electronically on December 21, 2012.