Short children can add 2 inches with growth hormone, study finds
February 17, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
BOSTON (CNN) -- Should short children take synthetic growth hormone to make them grow taller, even if there's nothing medically wrong with them?
The debate has raged among pediatricians for years. And now a study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that boys and girls who take growth hormone until adulthood will add only about 2 inches to their height.
For the study, researchers tracked the progress of 80 children who took synthetic growth hormone until they became adults.
On average, the boys were expected to grow to a height of 5 feet 3 inches without hormone supplements; with them, they grew to an average of 5 feet 5 inches. Girls experienced a similar level of growth, on average moving from an expected 4 feet 10 inches to 5 feet tall.
The study was funded, in part, by a drug company that makes synthetic growth hormone.
The question for parents and doctors is whether taking hormone shots for years is worth it to add just 2 extra inches to a child's height. While the drug does not have any known serious side effects, it costs $20,000 a year. Some insurance companies will pay for it, but others won't.
The senior author of the study, Dr. Raymond Hintz of Stanford University, says there are psychological reasons for taking growth hormone.
"Part of the problem is, of course, our society's attitude toward short stature," he says. "Along with sexism and ageism, there is height-ism in our society."
But Dr. Sharon Oberfield of Columbia University says she is worried about the unknown, long-term risks of giving children growth hormones for purely cosmetic reasons.
"I think you can be a very happy short child, and you can be a very unhappy tall child," she says. "I think there are many more things to happiness than just one's height."
CNN Indepth Section:
Use of growth hormone for children debated
New England Journal of Medicine
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