- Researchers say your height can be a factor in your risk for certain diseases.
- They report that taller people have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation and varicose veins.
- Shorter people, on the other hand, have a higher risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Experts say there are lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise that can lower your risk of disease, no matter your height.
How tall, or short, you are could affect your risk of certain medical conditions, a new study suggests.
For instance, being tall is linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat, but a lower risk of coronary heart disease, researchers from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, reported.
Similarly, taller people have a higher risk of varicose veins but a lower risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The researchers also concluded that taller people were more likely to suffer leg and foot ulcers as well as peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage to hands and feet that often includes a “pins and needles” sensation.
Some of these links had been previously established in prior studies, such as a connection between height and increased risk of certain cancers. Shorter people may also live longer than taller people, prior studies have suggested.
However, this new research was able to take a more refined approach to eliminate potential factors by using data from the federal Million Veteran Program database, which contains genetic profiles of 200,000 white adults and more than 50,000 Black adults.
Using this data as a foundation, the scientists were able to screen for more than 1,000 conditions, making this study on height and disease the largest of its kind.
“Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran Program, we found evidence that adult height may impact over 100 clinical traits, including several conditions associated with poor outcomes and quality of life – peripheral neuropathy, lower extremity ulcers, and chronic venous insufficiency,” Dr. Sridharan Raghavan, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado and the lead researcher on the study, said in a press release.
“We conclude that height may be an unrecognized non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults,” he added.
Your adult height might be a “non-modifiable” risk factor, but that doesn’t mean that other lifestyle factors that contribute to the likelihood or severity of disease can’t be changed.
“Increased height increases the risks of developing back pain problems and this could be due to overstretching the spine ligaments and placing significant pressure on the discs due to persistent slouching,” explained Dr. Medhat Mikhael, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at MemorialCare Spine Health Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “Tall patients are at much higher risks for blood clots and their possible complications.”
“[But] most of those risk factors can be detected, mitigated, and possibly prevented early,” Mikhael told Healthline.
Knowing your risks also means that you can focus on the factors that you can control, such as healthy eating, drinking less frequently, or quitting smoking.
“Many of these studies in taller and short people also comment on whether the participants are obese or average weight,” said Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“People cannot choose their height, but a person’s weight is a modifiable risk factor,” Segil told Healthline. “Obesity, in both tall and short people, increases risks for such problems as heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, and generally speaking, being thinner decreases these risks.”