Report: The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in Norway, 2018

Previous studies have shown that a relatively high proportion of the adult population in the Western world uses alternative therapy. In Norway, several user surveys have been carried out over the recent years. We at NAFKAM have retrieved updated information through a new interview survey, which also provides information on the use of dietary supplements used in self-treatment. This survey was performed by Ipsos MMI in November 2018, ordered by NAFKAM (Norway’s National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine).

This survey shows that the use of CAM in Norway remained at a high level in 2018: 37% had used one or more forms for CAM; once or several times. As before, more women (47%) than men (29%) reported using CAM. The average user of CAM was female, over 40 years of age, with higher education and high income, living in or near a city in Eastern Norway.

Only a minority (2%) of the CAM users reported experiences with side effects or worsening of their health situation from their use of CAM. Converted into numbers in the population 15 years or older, this figure still represents over 80,000 individuals, which for us at NAFKAM indicates that patient safety still needs to be taken seriously also in this field of health related services in Norway.

The decline in the use of CAM seen in our surveys from 2012-14-16 seems to have leveled off. A closer look at what kinds of CAM were used in 2018 shows that:

  • 23% of all respondents had received one or more CAM therapies from CAM providers and/ or authorized healthcare professionals; inside and/ or outside the official healthcare system.
  • Respondents in this group each spent an average of NOK 3000 on such CAM. Distributed throughout the population, this amounted to just under NOK 700 per citizen, and a total of just over NOK 3 billion.
  • The five CAM therapies that Norwegians made the most use of in 2018 were massage, acupuncture, naprapathy, reiki healing and reflexology.
  • The differences in usage between the ten predefined therapies were small, except for the proportion who had received massage from a masseur/ massage therapist. From previous studies, we know that the massage users’ purpose mainly is improving health rather than well-being. We have no reason to believe that this changed in 2018.
  • 10% used herb / herbal remedies as self-treatment, and 17% stated that they had used self-help techniques as self-treatment.

Dietary supplements:

Though not considered CAM, a total of 69% of the respondents in the survey reported that they had used supplements such as vitamins, minerals, fish oil. This was a small increase of 3 pp from 2016. On average, this group spent almost NOK 1000 each on dietary supplements last year. This was a cost increase of 7%. Distributed onto the population, the cost of dietary supplements was approximately NOK 690 per person, and a total of just under NOK 3 billion.

NAFKAM’s comment:

The Norwegian population's use of herbs / herbal remedies, self-help techniques and CAM therapies from health providers still constitute significant parts of its total consumption of health services. This may seem to contrast the fact that the respondents in the same survey considered their own health to be "reasonably good", regardless of whether they had used any of the health strategies we asked about or not.

One possible explanation for this could be a generally high health focus in society: Both physical and mental training, positive thinking, diet and lifestyle guidance are commercially recommended whether one wants to counteract a specific health problem, stay healthy or prevent illness, or want to improve one’s performance / performance beyond normal state.

Thus, while the people's total use of CAM appears to have stabilized after several years of decline, the consumption at the population level increased by 16% from 2016, to just under NOK 1100 per inhabitant and NOK 4.7 billion in total in 2018. The cost increase appears to be greatest among the males using CAM. The increases also appear to be greater than the inflation and rise in prices.

Report on the use of CAM in Norway

Read the full report from the latest survey (pdf)

Infographics - facts and figures


Norway's National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine

We work to give you facts about complementary and alternative medicine, so that you can make safer choices for your health.

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