Is There a Role for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Preventive and Promotive Health? An Anthropological Assessment in the Context of U.S. Health Reform


Chronic conditions associated with lifestyle and modifiable behaviors are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act offers an historic opportunity to consider novel approaches to addressing the nation’s public health concerns. We adopt an anticipatory anthropological perspective to consider lifestyle behavior change as common ground shared by practitioners of both biomedicine and common forms of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). At issue is whether CAM practitioners might play a more proactive and publicly endorsed role in delivering preventive and promotive health services to address these needs. Recognizing that this is a contentious issue, we consider two constructive roles for engaged medical anthropologists: (1) as culture brokers helping to facilitate interprofessional communities of preventive and promotive health practice and (2) in collaboration with health service researchers developing patient‐near evaluations of preventive and promotive health services on patient well‐being and behavior change. [health reform, complementary and alternative medicine, Affordable Care Act, health promotion]