Short Doctors More Likely to Push Growth Hormone on Kids

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

child growth chart on wall

Your child might be growing, but maybe not enough for her doctor. Credit: Getty Images

Your pediatrician says your child needs growth hormones.

Hold the phone.

How tall is your pediatrician? Can he play handball against the curb? Did he spend most of junior high stuffed inside a locker? Can you call him "Doc" without thinking of the Seven Dwarfs?

In other words, is he short?

If so, his own experience of being voted "Most Likely to be Mistaken for a Hobbit" might affect his professional judgment when it comes to making decisions about a kid's height.

Reuters news service reports researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found many physicians keep treating kids with growth hormones, even if the treatments don't seem to be effective.

And the reason seems to be a case of physicians trying to heal themselves.

Researchers say many of the doctors still suffer from their own self esteem issues from being the class pipsqueak and have set ideas about how much height affects a child's social well-being.

"What parents hear as medical advice may be little more than a doctor's own cultural assumptions," Susan Cohen, a journalist and the author of "Normal at Any Cost," tells Reuters Health. "They seem to think it's such a tragedy to be an extremely short boy."

Physicians generally agree that kids low on growth hormone -- a protein produced by the pituitary gland -- need a boost. The controversy is over-treating kids who have normal levels of growth hormone and just happen to be short.

If they also happen to be in the shortest 1.2 percent of their peers, federal Food and Drug Administration officials say they can receive hormone treatments, as well.

Some physicians say the treatments are worth it to spare the kids the teasing and embarrassment that comes with being short. Others point out you don't get self esteem from hormone treatments.

Researchers say growth hormone therapy costs about about $22,000 a year. And it may or may not be covered by insurance.

With as many as 500,000 children in the United States meeting the FDA criteria for treatment, Reuters reports, the real growth could be in profits -- to the tune of $10 billion.

Researchers surveyed 656 pediatric endocrinologists on how they would treat different hypothetical kids who were short but didn't have a deficiency in growth hormone or another clear medical condition.

Doctors were presented with factors such as gender, current height, projected adult height and whether or not the family wanted treatment. The scenarios also included whether or not the treatment had been effective after one year.

Presented with the case of a kid who grew one centimeter in a year on growth hormone, 60 percent of doctors recommended expanding the treatment.

Short doctors, or those who otherwise had intense personal feelings on the subject of height, were more likely to defy conventional recommendations and keep the treatment going.

Cohen tells Reuters she's flabbergasted.

"You have to remember that these are healthy kids," she says. "The long-term risks of giving a child who already has normal levels of growth hormone more are not known. It is an experiment."

Related: Does Stem Cell Research Ban Threaten Efforts to Help Children?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.