Writers Christine Cosgrove and Susan Cohen discussed their new book, Normal at Any Cost, which examines some of the drastic and life-threatening medical treatments that short boys and tall girls endured in order to obtain a 'normal' height.
Cosgrove said the medical community began worrying about girls' heights in the late 1940s, a time when society expected women to be shorter than men. Advice columns from the period even suggested that parents withhold food and vitamins from tall female children in order to stunt their growth, she added. Cosgrove recounted the story of a girl named Laura who was prescribed massive doses of synthetic estrogen to prevent her from growing any taller. As an adult Laura suffered several miscarriages and had other medical problems that may have been caused by these treatments, Cosgrove noted.
Cohen spoke about the pituitary gland's role in controlling growth, which she said was first theorized by neurosurgeon H.W. Cushing. In 1958, researchers discovered that pituitary glands harvested from human cadavers could be used to help dwarfed children grow. Tragically, an incurable and fatal neurological disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, was accidentally passed on to some patients who received these growth hormone treatments, Cohen pointed out. Since then a synthetic growth hormone has been developed that poses no such risk, she remarked.
Several callers also phoned in with stories about being treated for height issues as children.