Is acupuncture safe for kids?

Posted on December 23, 2011


Dateline: 21 November 2011 // Posted by: Claire Mogan
Source: CBS News, Fox News

Story: “Is Acupuncture safe for kids?”

Summary: The American Academy of Pediatrics has given acupuncture in children the go-ahead, after sixty years of research conducted. They reported that acupuncture is “generally safe for kids when performed by appropriately trained practitioners”.

The report which was published in the journal Pediatrics looked at the side effects of needle acupuncture from 37 studies on children from birth to age seventeen. The researchers found 279 unpleasant outcomes from needle acupuncture. Out of 279 unpleasant outcomes 253 were mild effects, 1 was of moderate effect and 25 were considered serious effects. Unpleasant effects comprised of bleeding, bruising and worsening of symptoms after the treatment.

The researchers said that the serious side effects were related to the poor conditions from the care provider. “Any of the serious side effects that they found were definitely due in part to the clinician’s malpractice,” Jamie Starkey said an acupuncturist who wasn’t involved in the study. Starkey also said to Fox News that acupuncture “is safe in both the adult and pediatric world, but you would have to go to somebody who is trained”

The report however, doesn’t mean acupuncture is successful as researchers only looked at the safety data. The Academy said however that it was okay for children to undergo acupuncture because most of the side effects were mild.

Acupuncture is sometimes used to treat headaches, migraines, cramps and also chemotherapy induced nausea. On average 150,000 U.S children undergo acupuncture each year.

Why is this PseudoNews? Acupuncture is an alternative medical system, and treats patients by inserting thin needles into the body. However acupuncture is not considered to be part of conventional medicine and thus is scientifically questionable. Its application, effects and results remain controversial to this day, and many scholars in reviews have mentioned that acupuncture’s effects are mainly placebo. There is a lack of scientific research concerning acupuncture and scientific research has failed to prove its existence. This study lacks evidence that acupuncture works effectively and also lacks plausibility and scientific status.

This study is scientifically questionable. There are many erroneous claims made with regard to acupuncture. There are vague and unprovable assertions made for example Jamie Starkey made the claim that acupuncture “is safe in both the adult and pediatric world” however there is no evidence to support this claim. Even after the Pediatrics report when they had looked at the side effects of acupuncture from 37 studies they did a reach a definite conclusion as to whether acupuncture was effective or ineffective.

This report is pseudoscientific by the use of unprovable claims and by the ways it lacks in supporting evidence. For example, another statement made by Starkey, with relation to the unpleasant effects expressed in the 37 studies, was that “any of the serious side effects that they found were definitely due in part to the clinician’s malpractice.” But how would she know this if she wasn’t participating in the study?

What features of pseudoscience are on show? There are clearly pseudoscientific features in this article. For example, when the Pediatrics looked for evidence of the side effects from 37 studies, the researchers do not highlight what type of evidence they were examining. It is probable that at least some of the evidence was based on personal testimony and might not be reliable. Anecdotal evidence carries very little weight in scientific investigations.

I believe there to be an element of confirmation bias in this study as the researchers tend to favour information that confirms their preconceptions regardless of whether it is true or not. For example in this study, researchers believe it is okay for children to undergo acupuncture, if it is conducted by someone who is trained however the results from this study do not support this claim, because by the end of the report it is not even made clear as to whether acupuncture is effective, so it is wrong to make an assumption like this.

The moral of the story: The significant claim made in this story is as to whether acupuncture is safe for kids. Researchers at the end of the report believe that acupuncture is safe if it is conducted by an experienced acupuncturist; however this assertion is questionable and lacks supporting evidence. I believe further research would need to be conducted for acupuncture to be safe for kids.