Quick hit: Giving short kids growth hormones to make them taller

I consider this article very important because it discusses another aspect of “body engineering” children in order to fit into societally acceptable norms—making short children, who are often teased for their shortness–rather than addressing the root problem of societal body discrimination.

The last quote is the all-important caveat.


Until research findings such as these were available, it was easy to assume that anything that could make the shorter person taller would be desirable, because of commonly accepted negative stereotypes associated with short stature and predictable experiences of teasing and juvenilization at younger ages,. In fact, in 2003, the FDA approved growth hormone (GH) to promote accelerated growth and adult height in the shortest 1.2% of children and adolescents who do not have any detectable medical problems. GH had previously been approved for treating youths with GH deficiency; in this case, medication was substituting for a hormone that these children’s bodies were not producing on their own. GH was then given to children with other medical conditions; for example, Prader-Willi in which metabolic benefits from treatment have been reported.

And at the end of the article:

My concern over the FDA approval of GH for healthy, short children is that medical treatment may send the wrong message. You possibly communicate to the child that something is wrong—so wrong that it justifies daily injections for years. Currently, little to no consideration is given to the potential psychological harm that treatment could inflict on the child we seek to help. And by “treating” short stature in healthy children, medicine is reinforcing the social forces that maintain negative stereotypes about short people. (5) There will always be individuals below any cutoff adopted to set the limit between “normal” from “abnormal” height. Therefore, even if the individual with short stature were to receive psychosocial benefit from GH (a benefit that has not been demonstrated), it is only because others remain shorter.

Over time, more and more treatments will blur the line between what we consider medically necessary versus enhancement. In deciding how to use these treatments, we need to focus on evidence, like patient-reported quality of life—especially when treating young people who rely on their parents and healthcare professionals to make proper decisions on their behalf.

~ David E. Sandberg, Ph.D.
April 2007

Which is the same thing as putting fat kids on diets, or on over-vigorous forced exercise regimes, or shaming them for their BMIs, etc. By “treating” fatness in healthy fat children, medicine is reinforcing the negative stereotypes about fat people.

2 comments on “Quick hit: Giving short kids growth hormones to make them taller

  1. phledge says:

    Ah, and if I’m not mistaken, the “research” that supported using GH in a wider population was supported by a grant from Novo Nordisk who is–surprise!–one of the leading producers of GH. I’ll have to double check that information and get back to you but it rang a bell when I read your post.

  2. BigLiberty says:

    Wow, phledge…thanks! Ugh, I’m so sick of the rampant conflict-of-interest between some areas of medical research and Big Pharma. For chrissakes, you know? It seems to me that most medical researchers are on the dole, in some form or another. The blogger La Wade and her Phat Science (a blog with thinly-veiled aspirations to debunk the science the FA movement relies on to prove that fat is normal, and not a disease) was on the dole from Eli Lilly as a researcher; she claimed that they might have “paid for the equipment” they used, and she didn’t consider that as being funded by Lilly because she wasn’t getting paid directly by them. Zah? Really?

    The fact is, the field of “Obesity Research” wouldn’t be so uber-populated if Big Pharma wasn’t pumping in big bucks to “prove” that obesity is a disease. If they can somehow show it’s a non-normal reaction to some abnormal levels of such-and-such, and can be cured by a supplement/drug/therapy of such-and-such, they’d be in heaven. And where there’s demand in certain areas of research, they’ll be researchers to fill that demand (i.e., take that grant money).

    It’s not the fault of the researchers themselves (though when they start blogs that pretend to be fat-friendly and in fact they’re doing everything in their power to prove obesity is some disease or abnormality, and diet blogs comment on and link to their sites, you really have to wonder [cough]Phat Science[/cough]); it’s the fault of a corrupt mechanism which allows serious papers to be written on the dole of an interested party.

    (I just wanted to make that comment, since I know you’re firmly against for-profit interested research—I find that just wonderful, by the way!)

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