The sales of vitamins in the last three months of 2008 grew by nearly 8% compared with the same period a year earlier, as per Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources.
Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics and a health policy expert at Princeton University, said, “When you go to the formal health system, you very quickly lose control over what this costs you,” adding that some patients “try to initially tough it out” instead of seeing a physician immediately. Reinhardt views the surge in vitamin and herbal supplement sales as part of a “consumer-directed health care” system in which higher health insurance deductibles prompt people to take more preventive health measures. Critics of the concept say it encourages people to skip necessary medical treatment, which causes them to remain sick for a longer time.
Physicians caution against reliance on supplements, and recent studies have cast doubt on the long-term efficacy of multivitamins and other supplements for certain health conditions, such as cancers and heart disease, the Times reports. Edward Langston, former board chair of the American Medical Association, said that he recommends his patients take limited doses of certain vitamins, but that supplements are neither a “panacea” nor a substitute for traditional health care.
According to the Times, “Direct evidence linking the rise in sales [of vitamins] to the recession is more anecdotal than scientific, though industry analysts said they saw the same correlation — though less pronounced — in previous downturns.”