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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Self-medication behaviors among Japanese consumers: sex, age, and SES differences and caregivers’ attitudes toward their children’s health management

Ikuko Aoyama*, Shinichi Koyama and Haruo Hibino

Author Affiliations

Department of Design Science, Graduate School of Engineering, Chiba University, 1-33 Yayoi-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba-shi, Chiba, 263-8522, Japan

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Asia Pacific Family Medicine 2012, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1447-056X-11-7

Published: 11 September 2012



Since 2009, when the revised Pharmaceutical Affairs Act was enacted in Japan, self-medication practices have increased. Because the concept of self-medication was recently introduced in Japan, few studies exist on this topic. Therefore, it is necessary to explore how self-medication is practiced. This study examined Japanese consumers’ self-medication practices and attitudes toward over-the-counter (OTC) medicines based on their sex, age, and socioeconomic status (SES).


The participants were 403 adults (Mage= 41.1 years, SD = 16.22). A quota sampling method was employed based on age group, and participants completed an online questionnaire.


Participants in the 20–29 age group reported medical costs as an obstacle in seeing a doctor; in contrast, transportation was a mitigating factor for elderly people. Regarding SES, people at lower SES levels chose to rest instead of seeing a doctor or purchasing over-the-counter (OTC) medicines when sick. They also placed more value on national brand OTC medicines than private brands (likely due to advertisements). This finding suggests individuals with a low SES do not select OTC medicines based on their effects or ingredients. Regarding attitudes toward OTC medicines, Japanese participants seemed to be unaware of the potential for abuse and side effects associated with OTC medicines. Finally, in relation to caregivers’ self-medication practices for their children, the majority of participants reported taking their children to the hospital since children tend to receive free medical care. Furthermore, caregivers with a high educational background are more confident in being able to help manage their children’s health.


Our results suggest that health and medical discrepancies among Japanese consumers pose new social problems. In Japan, universal health care is available, but the cost of receiving medical care is not completely free of charge. Thus, we hope that the government will attempt to meet the various needs of patients and support their well-being. Consumers also have to be more independent and aware of their health management, as self-medication practices will continue to play a more significant role in healthcare. More research is needed to find ways to teach Japanese consumers/patients of both the benefits and risks of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

Attitude toward OTC medicines; Health disparity; Medical disparity; Self-medication; Choice of OTC medicines