Growth Hormones on Rise in Healthy Kids

"They are fine," she said. "It's the prejudice and stereotypes from other peers, teachers and principals."

Growth Hormones: No Long-Term Health Studies

Many experts worry that there are no long-term studies on the health effects of growth hormone on healthy children. And medical ethicists point out that treatments are most effective when a child is too young for informed consent.

Shots, usually given six times a week, are expensive -- up to $4,000 a month -- and must be given before puberty when bone plates close. And in most cases, height gains are minimal.

"If our kid has a life-threatening illness, we want to go to the doctor, but if the kid is healthy, how much risk do we want to take for only one or two inches of height?" asked Cohen.

Growth Hormones: Is Bigger Better?

Human growth hormones have a dark history.

From 1963 to 1985, about 27,000 children worldwide were injected with human growth hormone (hGH) obtained from the pituitary glands of cadavers. Some contracted the deadly Creutzfeldt-Jakob or Mad Cow disease. In all, 26 out of 7,000 Americans -- and many more in Europe -- died, according to statistics from The National Institutes of Health.

But after 1985, with genetic engineering technologies, rGH and IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor, were developed to treat children with hormone deficiencies.

In 2003, Eli Lilly and Company requested approval to market its rGH, with the brand name Humatrope, to those whose height put them roughly in the shortest 1.2 percent of the population.

"This is not cosmetic use," Dr. David Orloff, the agency's chief of endocrinology, told The New York Times at the time.

Today, Lilly spokeswoman Teresa Shewman told that it "does not condone any use outside of its approved indications" and defended Humatrope's safety record.

But a 2006 article in Pediatrics magazine by David B. Allen -- "Growth Hormone Therapy for Short Stature: Is the Benefit Worth the Burden" -- warned about long-term risks.

These therapies are so successful, that doctors are using higher dosages to achieve maximum height, according to Allen.

"The transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease via pituitary growth hormone is a poignant reminder to take a farsighted view of the potential ramifications of long-term hormonal therapy," he wrote.

As for parents who want to beef up their children, "We chase those people out of our offices," said Desrosiers. "There are not many places in the country where they have fallen into the unethical trap."

But some report that their pediatricians are too eager to recommend growth hormones.

Atlanta, Ga., mother Ronica Brown said she was pressured by a doctor to consider rGH because of her son's short stature, even though no deficiency had been found.

Short Children's Parents Seek Help

"It is rather disconcerting that physicians are recommending interventions that for all practical purposes are unnecessary, and may, in fact, create clinical problems for otherwise healthy patients," Brown told

"It is like saying there is nothing wrong with brown eyes, but although this drug is approved for treatment of cataracts, it also lightens the color of the iris so we are recommending it for you."

But parents of children with legitimate growth hormone deficiency say the new demand for rGH has compromised their access to good diagnosis and treatment.

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