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Growth Hormone in Kids Linked to Risk of Diabetes

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The authors say several possible explanations could account for the high incidence of type 2 diabetes reported in the study. "Although type 2 diabetes mellitus is thought to be rare in childhood and adolescence, there has been a substantial increase in the incidence of this disorder in the past few years," writes Wayne S. Cutfield, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Auckland.

Another possibility is that the growth hormone may have hastened the onset of type 2 diabetes that would have occurred in adult life even if the children had not taken the hormone.

Stephen Gitelman, MD, director of the pediatric diabetes program at the University of California in San Francisco, says the findings are not overly surprising.

"We're seeing a real surge in type 2 diabetes in adolescents," Gitelman tells WebMD. "It's really reaching epidemic proportions. So we have this background where children are at increased risk as a result of ethnic diversity in our country and increased obesity, increased sedentary lifestyle, etc. And then on top of that you give a drug known to influence [glucose] metabolism and exacerbate insulin resistance. Given that background, it's not surprising that you are going to see a tendency toward more kids with diabetes."

But Gitelman says the possibility of diabetes developing during growth hormone treatment should always be discussed with parents, and if diabetes does develop, the shots either can be discontinued or the doses can be adjusted so as not to interfere with the diabetes.

Vital Information:

  • Growth hormone treatments are prescribed to children whose pituitary glands do not make enough of the hormone for normal growth, but some uses of the medication are controversial.
  • A new study shows that children taking growth hormone are six times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes, when compared to healthy children not taking the hormone.
  • Experts are unsure what to make of these findings, as many of these children are already at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the growth hormone may serve only to hasten its onset.
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