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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 11:53 GMT
Concern over growth drug use
The treatment is given to children with genetic disorders
The treatment is given to children with genetic disorders
Short children are being given synthetic growth hormones when there is no licensed reason, experts have said.

A report in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) said around one in five children are given the hormone for unlicensed reasons.

Short stature can be caused by growth hormone deficiency or a genetic disorder.

But there is concern that many parents see shortness as a problem in itself, and that children are given growth hormone simply to boost them to a more "acceptable" height.

A number of parents do feel that it might be an idea to give their offspring a shot of growth hormone

Tam Fry, Child Growth Foundation
The DTB estimates 22% of children treated with synthetic human growth hormone in the UK are being given it for unlicensed reasons such as short stature with no obvious cause.

Licensing does not cover all indications as many children are in clinical trials and treated for poor growth in rare conditions.

But it suggests that in unlicensed situations there seems to be little overall height gain.

It is also unclear whether receiving growth hormone therapy benefits children in other areas of life, such as academic achievement, job prospects or general quality-of-life.

The DTB recommends children should only be given growth hormone therapy for unlicensed uses as part of controlled trials.

'Happy with height'

Where children do have growth hormone deficiency, the treatment will normalise stature in around 90% of cases, and significantly increase their height, the DTB said.

Children with Prader-Willi syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that includes short stature, Turner's syndrome (a rare chromosomal disorder suffered by females, of which short stature is a feature), and chronic renal insufficiency can also benefit from growth hormone therapy.

In England in 2000, over 39,000 prescriptions, costing the NHS more than 26.8m, were dispensed for synthetic human growth hormone, mostly for children with short stature.

Professor Joe Collier, Editor of the DTB said: "Synthetic human growth hormone normalises stature in most children with growth hormone deficiency.

"In children taking growth hormone for unlicensed indications, such as idiopathic short stature, where the overall final height gain seems small, we believe the therapy should only be given as part of controlled trials."

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, told BBC News Online he agreed growth hormone should not be given to children who were naturally short, but he said many families were concerned.

"A number of parents do feel that it might be an idea to give their offspring a shot of growth hormone."

He said that the ideal solution would be for society to be more accepting of shorter people.

But he added that for families of naturally short children who wanted to boost their height, testosterone treatment was the answer.

Mr Fry said: "Testosterone is the way we would go, and what you also do is encourage the people who surround the child not to see short stature as a disadvantage and to help them rebut evil remarks and become happier with their short stature."

See also:

23 Jun 98 | Medical notes
Human growth hormone
29 Mar 00 | Health
Short boys 'held back at school'
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