It happens all the time — a kid on your child’s sport’s team lags behind the others in height, and he’s worried about it. So too are his mom and dad. It’s tough on a kid when he’s the shortest one on the team or in a classroom; competition makes us all want to keep up, do what we can to eliminate, well, our shortcomings. Nevertheless, all kids are different and spring from their family’s genetic pool, and there’s nothing wrong with being short. But some parents are willing to take measures to give their kids a boost. Enter the question of growth hormones. Typically used to help children with medical issues, growth hormones are being re-examined for their use in helping healthy children gain ground in height and size. But are they the answer? “Who wouldn’t want their child to play for the NBA, MLB or NFL enjoying a life of celebrity?” asks Matt Perkins, M.D., of Tennessee Medicine & Pediatrics in Murfreesboro. “Growth hormone (GH) therapy questions come up from time to time, but a short child will not become tall with hormone treatment.”
So when are GH therapies useful?
“Current indications for GH treatment include growth failure due to growth hormone deficiency, pituitary failure, chronic kidney disease and other defined occurrences of short stature,” Perkins says. But GH treatment is very expensive (upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a year) and requires daily injections for years resulting in vertical growth of two to three inches, doctors say. “A pediatrician (usually a pediatric endocrinologist) can perform tests to determine if a child’s growth hormone is abnormally low,” says Mark Krakauer, M.D., of St. Thomas Medical Group, “but GH is not used for parents who want their normal child to achieve a taller height.”
Do ADHD Meds Stunt Growth?
“With the advent of Internet searches, there’s a tremendous amount of disinformation out there,” Perkins says. “ADHD medications themselves do not stunt growth,” he adds firmly. “While Ritalin and Adderall, for example, can suppress appetite by their action of the appetite center in the brain, it is the decreased appetite that can lead to impaired growth,” he says. “ADHD meds can affect growth patterns,” Krakauer clarifies, “but are not felt to affect ultimate adult height. In the long run, kids catch up in their growth, often over the weekends or “drug holidays” such as summertime or in between semesters, but growth hormone is not prescribed for growth suppression that is attributed to ADHD meds,” he says. “If a child’s growth pattern is negatively affected by an ADHD med, then the physician should stop, reduce or altogether change medications,” says Krakauer. “Growth hormone treatment is only used in an entirely different condition called growth hormone deficiency,” he adds.
It’s natural to want to give a child every advantage, but giving growth hormones to a short but otherwise healthy kid raises scientific and ethical questions for us all. For instance, are we teaching kids that being short is a disease in need of curing? “Growth hormones are prescribed when an individual has growth hormone deficiency,” Kraukauer says. “This is a disease state which causes abnormally low growth rate, short stature and in some cases other severe symptoms that occur in infancy,” Kraukauer adds. “In other words, if two parents are short, their offspring are also likely to be short and this would not be grounds for treatment.” If you’re concerned about your child’s size and growth, you should certainly discuss it with his pediatrician, but chances are there’s nothing to worry about.