Giving nonessential medical treatment to children—especially for cosmetic reasons—has always been controversial. In 2003, the FDA approved the prescription of human growth hormone for children whose heights fall in the bottom one percent for their age group (boys predicted to grow to 5 feet 3 inches, and girls predicted to grow to 4 feet 11 inches).

According to the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the short-term risks of being treated with HGH are minimal.  However, the long-term risks are another story. A large-scale study found that people who had been treated with growth hormones in childhood were more likely to develop cancer, especially of the colon and lymphatic system, by the time they reached their mid-40s.

Now, doctors and parents alike may be pleased to hear there might be a safer alternative. The results of a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that metformin, a commonly prescribed drug used primarily to control sugar metabolism, may also help children grow taller. Unlike HGH, metformin does not increase cancer risk. According to Spring Chicken, a book about humanity's quest for eternal youth, metformin has actually been found to improve general health.

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Although the height gains granted by metformin are modest—one centimeter, on average, in this study—experts say that they could increase over time as children continue taking the drug.

None of this changes the fact that short stature isn’t a medical condition, but merely a physical characteristic—one that, according to PCRM, shouldn’t be treated medically at all. What do you think? Would you give your kids drugs to make them taller? What can we do, as a society, to destigmatize short stature?

 

Sources:

  1. Science Daily: Metformin Associated With Small Height Increase in Children
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Metformin Improves Healthspan and Lifespan in Mice
  3. Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine: Protecting Children from Human Growth Hormone Risks
  4. Spring Chicken, by Bill Gifford