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23 March 2006
The High Cost Of Getting Bigger
by George Atkinson

It's well established that society has a preference for tall men. It seems that tall men earn higher salaries, attract the most desirable women and generally do better in life than their shorter brethren.

It's not surprising then, that many parents are turning to medical science for an answer to their child's lack of height. But how much would you pay to be about 2 inches taller? For parents with children suffering from idiopathic short stature (ISS) - a condition that causes children to be well below their normal height range - those additional two inches could cost US$100,000.

That figure is based on treating ISS by using growth hormone therapy for a period of five years. The surprising finding comes from researchers at the University of Michigan who analyzed the cost-effectiveness of recombinant growth hormone treatment after the FDA approved its use in 2003.

At a cost of around $52,000 per inch, and an estimated 400,000 American children who are now eligible for growth hormone therapy, it's no surprise that concerns are now mounting over funding. Children with ISS represent the shortest 1.2 percent of all children based on age and gender. But since they are otherwise healthy children, there is considerable debate about the costs and benefits for a 1 - 2 inch height gain.

The researchers, writing in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, estimate it would cost about $40 billion dollars to treat the estimated 400,000 American ISS sufferers. "With the rising cost of prescription drug therapies in the country, growth hormone therapy for ISS has the potential to become one of the major challenges facing our health care system today," said researcher Joyce Lee.

To improve the cost-effectiveness of growth hormone therapy, she said more research needed to be done to help physicians identify children likely to have the greatest potential for growth. "Due to variability in the growth response we found in children with ISS, targeted treatment of children with ISS who have the greatest potential for growth is critical to improve the cost-effectiveness of this therapy," she explained.

She also stressed the need for future research to examine the psychological outcomes related to growth hormone therapy use. The current study did not evaluate the impact of growth hormone therapy on improvements to quality of life, or the possible long-term effects on salary and future earnings. Both are critical indicators for growth hormone therapy use, Lee concluded.

Based on material from the University of Michigan




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