Medicalizing Short StatureNovember 17, 2011
The US market for growth hormone is estimated at 22 billion dollars. But it wasn’t always such an enormous market. Two growth hormone producers, Eli Lilly and Genentech, have worked hard to medicalize short stature and convince children and their parents that being short is a disease rather than a natural variation in human height. At first the administration of growth hormones was exclusively for children with growth hormone deficiency but this restriction obviously limited the sales market. By expanding it to all children whose height was below the third percentile 90,000 potential new customers were created. In the early 1990s Eli Lilly and Genentech covertly paid two US charities, the Human Growth Foundation and the MAGIC Foundation, to measure the height of thousands of children in schools and public places, and to urge medical consultations for children whose height was deemed low. They paired this research with a campaign to advertise the hormone to physicians. The campaign was a ‘success’, and tens of thousands of children, half of which don’t even have growth hormone deficiency, began receiving growth hormones.