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Growth Hormones For Kids?

If given the opportunity to be taller, will some children subject themselves to years of hormone injections for just a couple of inches?

They may get the chance to, with parental consent, if the FDA decides this summer whether to approve the use of growth hormones to make short children taller, even if there is no underlying medical problem stunting their growth.

A government advisory panel recommended on Tuesday that the FDA approve the growth hormone Humatrope for children for cosmetic reasons.

Humatrope is currently approved for use in children whose growth is stunted by underlying medical conditions or a lack of the hormone, but a 1996 study estimated that as many as 40 percent of prescriptions of Humatrope were for "off-label" cosmetic reasons.

Critics, such as Ethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, who discussed the issue on The Early Show Wednesday, are concerns that the high cost of the hormone and frequent injections are not worth the potential small height increase of about 2 inches that the hormone can generate in some children.

There is also the possibility of less increase or no increase at all in height after taking the hormone. It is not known what the long-term effects of Humatrope use in children are, although it has been around for more than 15 years and is generally considered safe and effective.

The drug will be tightly regulated, prescribed by specialists and shipped directly to patients. The FDA panel did not determine the appropriate age to start treatment.

Studies show children gain 1.5 to 2.8 inches than they would normally be after about four years of growth hormone treatment. The drug maker Eli Lilly says they would restrict use to boys predicted to be 5 feet 3 inches or shorter and girls 4 feet 11 inches or shorter.

Some worry it will be hard to enforce restrictions if Humatrope is accepted to include cosmetic reasons, and the drug companies will have no financial incentive to do so. Different companies manufactures other growth hormones, including Genentech and Pfizer.

Caplan says he doesn't think many parents will want daughters to take the shots, but the demand for boys could be huge. He doesn't believe that there is anything inherently wrong with prescribing medicine to enhance cosmetic appearance, and thinks that the market for cosmetic and performance enhancement will only get bigger in the future. There are many instances where surgery and drugs are used for these purposes. Sports medicine is also common for improving performance and appearance.

When it comes to prescribing hormones for children for cosmetic reasons, there is also the issue of what the child would want in the long run. It is reasonable to say that a child may not care about height issues as an adult. Caplan worries that increased use of hormones will be a way for a parent to try to influence the development of their child, perhaps unnecessarily and before the child is able to make the decision for themselves.

The physical effort and pain of the six shots a week of the hormone is also a big consideration when it comes to treating kids. Some may want to ask themselves if years of hormone shots are worth it for a couple inches of extra height. The $10,000 to $25,000 a year cost for the drug is another factor to consider.