The Korea Herald


Koreans taking unproven growth medicines: report

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Oct. 25, 2023 - 15:28

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This photo shows children going home after school at a Seoul-based elementary school. (Newsis) This photo shows children going home after school at a Seoul-based elementary school. (Newsis)

The effects or safety of the substances sold in South Korea as “growth medicine” have not been verified through proper clinical testing, a report by a main opposition lawmaker claimed Wednesday.

There are 24 different drugs that are being marketed as helping boost growth in Korea, according to Rep. Kim Young-joo of the Democratic Party.

An analysis of the data from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, the National Health Insurance Service, and the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service revealed that none of these products have had their effects validated by clinical trials, she said.

“It’s been found that the drugs have been tested only on people suffering from growth hormone deficiency, such as patients with Turner Syndrome patient,” Kim said.

None of the trials involved people with normal levels of growth hormone.

While taking the drugs may aid those with a hormone deficiency, it has not been proven whether it can actually help children without such deficiencies grow taller.

The National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency, an affiliate of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, stated in its 2021 report that prescribing these drugs to help the growth of children was not recommended.

Despite this, millions of growth drugs have been prescribed to children or teenagers who do not have hormone deficiencies. According to Kim, these medicines have been prescribed on 10.66 million occasions by local medical facilities from 2021 to September of this year.

Some 97 percent of the drugs were prescribed to healthy individuals, simply for the purpose of making them taller. This use is not covered by the state medical insurance system.

“It is a serious issue that these medicines, which have not even been tested on non-patients, are being promoted and prescribed as helping the growth of children and teenagers. The ministries must step up monitoring of these misused drugs,” Kim said.

South Korea is not a particularly tall country in terms of average height, but there is a widespread preference for people with taller height, particularly in men.

According to a 2022 report by the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, the average heights for adults are 172.5 centimeters for men and 159.6 centimeters for women. But in a 2022 survey by matchmaking company Duo on the ideal spouse, female respondents on average wanted husbands that are 178.8 centimeters tall, while male respondents sought wives that were 163 centimeters in height.