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Open Access Research article

A scoping review of research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the mass media: Looking back, moving forward

Laura C Weeks* and Tina Strudsholm

Author Affiliations

Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB, Canada

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:43  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-43

Published: 19 July 2008



The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become more common in Western developed countries in recent years, as has media reporting on CAM and related issues. Correspondingly, media reports are a primary information source regarding decisions to use CAM. Research on CAM related media reports is becoming increasingly relevant and important; however, identifying key concepts to guide future research is problematic due to the dispersed nature of completed research in this field. A scoping review was conducted to: 1) determine the amount, focus and nature of research on CAM and the mass media; and 2) summarize and disseminate related research results.


The main phases were: 1) searching for relevant studies; 2) selecting studies based on pre-defined inclusion criteria; 3) extracting data; and 4) collating, summarizing and reporting the results.


Of 4,454 studies identified through various search strategies, 16 were relevant to our objectives and included in a final sample. CAM and media research has focused primarily on print media coverage of a range of CAM therapies, although only a few studies articulated differences within the range of therapies surveyed. Research has been developed through a variety of disciplinary perspectives, with a focus on representation research. The research reviewed suggests that journalists draw on a range of sources to prepare media reports, although most commonly they cite conventional (versus CAM) sources and personal anecdotes. The tone of media reports appears generally positive, which may be related to a lack of reporting on issues related to risk and safety. Finally, a variety of discourses within media representations of CAM are apparent that each appeal to a specific audience through resonance with their specific concerns.


Research on CAM and the mass media spans multiple disciplines and strategies of inquiry; however, despite the diversity in approach, it is clear that issues related to production and reception of media content are in need of research attention. To address the varied issues in a comprehensive manner, future research needs to be collaborative, involving researchers across disciplines, journalists and CAM users.