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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Growing pains

Imagine you’re a 12-year-old, face-to-face with a doctor holding a syringe. You’re the shortest person in your class, and you can tell your parents are worried you’re not going to grow. You don’t want to be short anymore. You don’t want to get picked on anymore.

The doctor is holding your solution. Time to make a decision that will change your life. Should you give in? Will you feel better about yourself?

Human growth hormone (HGH), is a drug that many Americans have been prescribed to address their height “ailments.” The hormone has been prescribed to people of all ages, but it is most commonly used by children.

For each half-inch on their child’s measuring tape, parents can expect to invest between $18,000 and $36,600. As HGH usually adds three inches to a child’s height, some parents ultimately dish out over $200,000 so their child can be 5-foot-4 instead of 5-foot-1.

I’m not a parent, nor am I 12 (maybe in my head), but I can’t help but wonder if HGH is worth it. Even if a child gained three inches on the outside, I believe they’d still be short on the inside.

In the article “Tragic treatments aimed to make kids ‘normal’,” the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the popularity of HGH in our society may reflect an overriding desire for perfection.

They take the story back to post-World War II America, when conformity was the societal doctrine. Tall girls were given synthetic estrogen, which stopped their growth in order to save them from adolescence and a husbandless future.

And naturally, as guys were pressured to be tall, completely healthy but shorter boys were given HGH. So women were feminized for marriage, and men were forced to fit the mold. Of course, a man couldn’t be happy at 5-foot-6. That would be preposterous.

This dark past of HGH is disturbing. We have found ourselves in a regimented belief that fitting in makes people happier, and it’s just lame. The fact that these injections are given to perfectly healthy children is rather unsettling.

For one, the hormone introduces an internal dilemma for children that they shouldn’t have to deal with.

“Receiving these treatments makes some kids fixate on this aspect of their lives,” explains Susan Cohen, co-author of a book on the subject of height manipulation. “They may feel that even their parents can’t accept them.”

With all the other pains of growing up, it’s hard to imagine coping with this insecurity at such a young age. Cohen’s fellow author, Christine Cosgrove, suggests that if a child expresses concern about their height, the immediate reaction should be to address teasing and bullying, the most probable sources of the child’s unhappiness. She doesn’t believe the issue can be solved with HGH. It’s deeper than that.

However, there are cases when the use of HGH is justifiable. A New York Times columnist looked at a case where a young boy was taken to the doctor because his mother believed him to be exceedingly small for his age. With some tests, the doctor found that the boy suffered from a growth hormone deficiency. After a year of injections, the boy not only grew a couple inches, but also gained a better appetite and was generally a healthier kid.

So while it is true that HGH is commonly used for cosmetic ambitions, there are a number of medically viable uses for the hormone.

Yes, HGH serves as a good solution for some children, but what about everyone else who utilizes it?

“Many kids who are not actually growth-hormone-deficient will not respond to the treatment, so it is a very expensive crapshoot,” said Dr. Phillipa Gordon, who was interviewed in the New York Times column.

Living with a doctor dad my whole life, I’ve learned that people shouldn’t be treated for problems they don’t have. Maybe there are plenty of people who used HGH as a kid and are worry-free and completely content. I just know that accepting my height was an important learning moment in my life, and it’s something I wouldn’t give up for anything, even if it meant I could be taller.

I’m not saying it’s easy being unusually tall or short, but isn’t it comforting to know that we’re not the only ones? Support and a sense of community are what make the difference. Not manipulation. The varying-sized people I’ve interviewed over the past couple of weeks have proved to me that fitting in doesn’t make someone confident – it’s learning how to proudly stand out.

MAYA MAKKER knows that all stories have more than one side. They’re like prisms. If you’re a fan of prisms, please reach her at mgmakker@ucdavis.edu.

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