Chinese health experts are raising concerns about the growing interest among parents to use synthetic human growth hormones on their children.
Local media outlets cited by The Epoch Times reported that the Beijing Children’s Hospital had almost doubled its endocrinologist consultations since July, over 90 percent of which were parents inquiring about their children’s height. In some of the cases, the parents even ask the specialists directly to inject their children with “height boosting shots.”
The injections, which produce bone growth and development similar to results from the growth hormone produced naturally in humans, are prescribed by specialists to children whose growth plates were not properly fused and are found to have growth hormone deficiencies. The treatment is also offered to children with known medical conditions, such as Turner syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and short bowel syndrome.
The demand for “height boosting shots” has become such a growing trend in other parts of China in recent years that health experts are sounding the alarm for potential abuse of growth hormone prescriptions.
According to Nikkei Asia, pharmaceutical companies in China have been feeding off of this spike in demand from parents. These companies also provide rebates, resulting in some hospitals overprescribing the growth hormones to anxious parents.
Based on 2019 figures, annual treatments for growth hormone powder injections cost almost 19,000 yuan (approximately $2,600), liquid injections cost around 42,000 yuan (approximately $5,800) and long-acting injections cost about 196,000 yuan (approximately $27,000). Such treatments usually take 2-5 years to complete.
The growing demand has significantly benefited China’s biggest growth hormone company, GeneScience Pharmaceuticals (GeneSci), which grew its annual revenue over four times from 2016 to 2020.
When large public hospitals turn parents down, many reportedly resort to seeking growth hormone prescriptions from private hospitals. Some go as far as buying the hormone from other channels and injecting their children themselves.
Dr. Lin Ming, a specialist at Wuhan Union Hospitals’ Pediatric Endocrinology Department, lamented that parents have become too concerned about their children’s height.
“Only a very small number of people really need to use growth hormone therapy; most children only need a nutritious and balanced diet, enough sleep, and proper exercise, and do not need growth hormones to increase their height,” Ming told The Epoch Times.
A case highlighted by Endocrinology at Zhejiang University Children’s Hospital Deputy Director Huang Ke involved a mother who spent 480,000 yuan (approximately $66,000) in total for her son’s hormone injection treatments only for him to grow just a centimeter (0.4 inches).
Another couple claimed to have spent over 500,000 yuan (approximately $69,000) to treat their child with growth hormones for two and a half years.
Experts warn against healthy children undergoing such costly treatments since there is no guarantee they will work. For cases where the treatment actually works, the most they can grow is around 4 to 6 centimeters (1.57 inches to 2.36 inches), according to the Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital.
Tianjin’s 4th Central Hospital Pediatrics Director Li Sujie highlighted the risk of improper use of growth hormone as current treatments are geared towards those with pathological or idiopathic short stature and not for children within the normal height range.
Beijing Tsinghua Changgung Hospital echoed such sentiments and cautioned parents against the treatments as they may cause adverse reactions, such as an accelerated puberty development and growth plate fusion.
Specialists warned that improper handling of dosage in healthy children can also result in edema, cardiomyopathy, insulin resistance, stroke, increased eye pressure, arthritis, idiopathic increased intracranial pressure and gynecomastia.