Height and its effects on disease risk
Height is a topic that many assume has no correlation to disease risk. Inherently speaking, this is true; however, to completely dismiss height as a factor that plays a role in an individual’s risk for developing different diseases or conditions is too simplistic of a model. Depending on the disease or condition, the influence of an individual’s height varies, and it is important to note that this discussion is focusing on people within the normal deviation of height. If your height is on either extreme: short or tall, you may be an exception in which these general trends do not accurately apply. Similarly, this discussion is not saying that you will develop a disease simply because of your height. This article will simply address the potential effect of height as one of the numerous factors that have an influence on your health. Additionally, this discussion is completely separate from the topic of weight, where it tends to have a stronger influence, particularly if you are extremely under or overweight.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), height serves as an indicator of socioeconomic and nutritional status in childhood. This is taking into an individual’s genetic makeup into consideration as nutrition during development plays a large role in one’s potential growth in addition to their DNA. It has been shown that poor fetal development and poor growth during childhood are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as an adult. Interestingly, a high-calorie intake in childhood may be associated with an increased risk of cancer in later life. Clearly, height in this way can have an indirect role to play in the development of any disease. It must be taken into consideration with numerous other factors but to simply eliminate it would be inaccurate.
Childhood Nutrition & Height
Height has also been used as an indicator of usual childhood intake. However, it has been found that utilizing height in isolation is imperfect; protein intake has a more important role. It was determined that if a child has adequate protein intake, genetics will define the adult height. It has been suggested that excess protein intake is related to childhood obesity, but it is important to note that overweight or obese children tend to be in the upper percentiles for height in their respective age groups.
Studies: Cardiovascular Risk
A recent study in the UK has shown that shorter height is linked to an increased risk of heart disease or a heart attack. A study has found that 180 genes determine your height; some of the genes that make you short also play other roles that make you more likely to have more LDL and triglycerides. LDL is low-density lipoprotein, which is the “bad” type of cholesterol that leads to artery-clogging and increased risk of cardiovascular events. The study utilized 200,000 people in the U.K., and it determined that every 2.5 inches below the average height, increases an individual’s risk for heart disease by 14 percent. Despite this somewhat alarming news, as previously mentioned, height is one factor in a multifactorial model of one’s health. You can overcome this in the context of heart disease by having other healthy lifestyle factors. You can beat your genes. Healthy habits include eating well, exercising, getting proper rest, managing stress, and this risk tied with your health has much less of an impact compared to smoking, having high cholesterol, or other lifestyle factors. This risk also doesn’t exempt tall people from developing heart issues.
Height has been shown to have a relationship with cancer mortality, including breast, uterus, ovarian, and colon. A new study recently found that for every 2-inch increase over the average height of 5 feet 3 inches amongst U.K. women, the risk of ovarian cancer increased by 7 percent. There are multiple studies citing similarly increased rates of cancers in both women and men based on their height. Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to find the mechanism that causes this, although they hypothesize it is related to the potential of early life nutritional factors and their effect on long-term cancer risk.
Similar to cancer, taller people have been found to have an increased risk of stroke. An Israeli study, which collected data from more than 10,000 men, found that a 2-inch increase in height was linked with a 13 percent increase in fatal stroke risk.
Other Diseases and Conditions
Height has also been linked with other diseases and conditions, including but not limited to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note throughout this discussion that height is being addressed in these studies as a risk factor, and any correlation they have found does not imply causation. With this in mind, health should be taken into consideration as simply one factor. There are numerous factors that play a larger role in one’s health and risk of developing diseases. These lifestyle factors can be controlled and therefore can be manipulated either to one’s benefit or detriment. Height can be affected by your environment, but this is during the growing process. Once you have stopped growing, there is very little you can do to meaningfully change your height, either increasing or decreasing it. Because this is the case, making healthy life choices will have a much greater influence on one’s risk for the development of the conditions and diseases listed above, or any others. This includes having adequate calorie intake with proper nutrition, adequate rest and recovery, exercise, stress management, etc. Whether you are tall, short, or average, your height should not cause you any meaningful stress. Simply understand its potential influence as a minor factor in the context of everything else.