Federal report on alternative health understates impact of supplements, CRN says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Alternative health report understates supps' impact

Related tags: Dietary supplement

A recent communication from two federal agencies paints a promising picture of Americans’ allegiance to alternative health approaches but may understate how big a part dietary supplements play.

According to a recent analysis​ performed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 59 million Americans spend money out-of-pocket on complementary health approaches, and their total spending adds up to $30.2 billion a year.  The data was based on data from a special supplement—on use of complementary health approaches—to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey​ (NHIS). The NHIS is a very large survey conducted annually by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. The analysis was published recently in National Health Statistics Reports​.

Specific findings

Among the findings were:

▪ About 59 million Americans age 4 or older had at least one out-of-pocket expenditure related to a complementary health approach―55.2 million adults and 4.1 million children (23.5 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively).

 ▪ Total out-of-pocket spending for complementary approaches was $30.2 billion―$28.3 billion for adults and $1.9 billion for children―representing 9.2 percent of all out-of-pocket spending by Americans on health care and 1.1 percent of total health care spending.

 ▪ Among those who had an expenditure on complementary approaches, the mean out-of-pocket spending per person was $510.

As as far as dietary supplements are concerned, the analysis said that Americans spent $12.8 billion out-of-pocket on natural product supplements, which was about one-quarter (24%) of what they spent out-of-pocket on prescription drugs ($54.1 billion). The mean annual out-of-pocket expenditure in this category was about $368.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition has put a lot of effort behind assembling and presenting data on the size and impact of the dietary supplement business, both from the standpoint of how much health care spending potentially is saved by supplement use and from the impact dietary supplement businesses have on their local communities. Steve Mister, CRN’s executive director, said the NCCIH/CDC analysis might actually understate the overall impact of dietary supplements.

“We think their overall figures  are little on the low side.  It should be noted that they defined the category of supplements to exclude vitamin and mineral products,” ​Mister told NutraIngredients-USA.

“We rely very heavily in NBJ data, which shows an overall $38 billion for the supplements space. Even if you take out the vitamins and minerals (and correct for the year in which the data was collected) I think the space for other supplements is still larger than what they quote,” ​Mister said.

In its most recent market report, the American Botanical Council said that $6.4 billion worth of herbal dietary supplements were sold in the United States in 2014, a 6.8% rise over the previous year.

Big industry footprint

CRN recently released an economic impact survey that showed that the dietary supplement industry contributes $122 billion and 750,000 jobs to the US economy.​  Mister said the size of that footprint has come of something of a revelation to the members of Congress that CRN interacted with during its recent Day on the Hill.

“There were some surprises in the report and one was just how big the industry is in the state of Florida,” ​Mister said. “Representatives were finding out just how big a stake the industry has in their districts. Being able to show the direct jobs, and indirect jobs through packaging and shipping was very helpful.  And we were able to show that in the jobs in the dietary supplement factories that these people are bringing home  a living wage,”​ Mister said.

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