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Med Decis Making. 2013 Feb;33(2):282-97. doi: 10.1177/0272989X12451056. Epub 2012 Jun 29.

Use of natural health products: how does being "natural" affect choice?

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Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (HB, NK)
Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada (AB)



Little is currently known about how and why consumers choose to use natural health products (NHPs), such as herbs and vitamins.


The objective of this study was to explore how the product attributes of NHPs and conventional pharmaceutical sleep aids are linked to consequences and values in consumers' decision making.


During the spring and summer of 2007, 60- to 90-minute semistructured, laddering interviews based on the means-ends chain approach were conducted with 25 participants experiencing sleep problems in Toronto, Canada, who were selected to have a range of demographic characteristics.


Participants varied considerably in the complexity of their decision processes, as between 3 and 14 attribute-consequence-value associations were elicited per interview. The factors found to be most important in determining the type of sleep aid chosen by consumers were whether the product was natural or chemical, whether it was perceived to work or have side effects, and participants' perceptions of the impact of product use on their relationships and, subsequently, on their quality of life. Participants described making different tradeoffs between product attributes (e.g., naturalness) and perceived consequences (e.g., efficacy and side effects) depending on the situational context and indicated that these tradeoffs were done in an effort to maximize values such as overall quality of life.


The naturalness and associated perceived lack of side effects of a product were more important than perceived efficacy for consumers selecting sleep aids for regular use. Only in special cases where efficacy was deemed essential (e.g., prior to important life or work events) did efficacy become a more important factor in the decision-making process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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