While much more evidence is needed, research indicates a possible link between height and specific diseases, as well as longevity potential.

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You may assume that being tall means, in some part, having good health. In addition to genetics and heredity, adult height is determined largely by nutritional intake during infancy and childhood. The better the nutrition, the healthier and taller you’re likely to be.

But multiple studies have thrown this assumption into question. Being tall may have its perks. But, based on some studies, long life may not be one of them.

Keep in mind, though, that short and tall are relative terms, and more research, and evidence, are needed to confirm the effect of height on life span. Lifestyle habits also play a strong role in longevity potential.

We’ll highlight the research on this topic and break it down for you.

There are several studies indicating a correlation between height and mortality risk.

Death rates among Italian soldiers

A longitudinal study of men who had served in the Italian military found that those under 161.1 cm (approx. 5’3″) lived longer than those over 161.1 cm. This study looked at the death rates of men born between 1866 and 1915 in the same Italian village.

Researchers found that at 70 years old, the taller men were expected to live approximately 2 years less than those who were shorter.

During the years when study participants were born, the average height for men in the village was around 5’2″. By current standards, this is relatively short.

It’s also important to note that the researchers did not correlate variables, such as weight and BMI (body mass index), for this study.

Longevity of former basketball players

A 2017 study on height and lifespan in former professional basketball players found that larger body size yielded reduced longevity. This study analyzed the height and life span of 3,901 living and deceased basketball players who played between 1946-2010.

The players had an average height of 197.78 cm. (approx. 6’5″ tall). In this study, the tallest players in the top 5 percent for height died younger than the shortest players in the bottom 5 percent. Those born between 1941-1950 were an exception to these findings.

Researchers were quick to note that variables such as genotype variations, socioeconomic factors, medical care, weight, education, nutrition, exercise, and smoking were all factors that also play a role in determining longevity.

The FOX03 gene

The FOX03 genotype and its relationship to height and longevity was analyzed in an observational study of 8,003 American men of Japanese descent.

The FOX03 gene is consistently linked to longevity in human and animal studies. It is also linked to body size, and may be one reason why shorter people may have longer lifespans.

In this study, men who were 5’2″ or shorter were more likely to have a protective form of the FOX03 gene, and lived the longest. Those over 5’4″ had shorter lifespans.

Shorter men were also shown to have less incidence of cancer, and lower fasting insulin levels. FOX03 is a key regulatory gene in the insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway.

It is not completely understood why, or even if, shorter people are destined to live longer. Much more research is needed.

Currently, there are multiple theories:

  • Caloric restriction (eating less). It’s possible that this may be a factor which favors longer life for shorter people. Taller people have bigger bones, and larger internal organs than short people do. This means they need a larger daily caloric intake to function optimally.
  • Shorter bodies have fewer cells. Tall people can have trillions more cells than short people. This allows for greater exposure and impact to cells from free radicals and carcinogens.
  • More cells means more cell replications. As people age, replacement cells may no longer be available to repair tissue and organ damage in taller people.

Health complications which may be correlated with height include cancer and other conditions. Here’s what the science says.

Cancer, all-cause death

A 2016 study of American men and women found a connection between height and cancer risk, as well as death from all causes. Researchers analyzed death certificate data for 14,440 men and 16,390 women aged 25 and up.

According to researchers, an additional inch increase in height generated a 2.2 percent higher risk of death from all causes for men, and a 2.5 percent higher risk of death from all causes for women.

An additional inch increase in height generated a 7.1 percent higher risk of death from cancer for men, and a 5.7 percent higher risk of death from cancer for women.

The researchers controlled for education level and birthdays. They concluded that their findings indicated a positive increase in accessibility to excellent medical care, for conditions other than cancer, in the participants.

Cancer risk among post-menopausal women

Cancer risk and height was analyzed in a 2013 study of 144,701 postmenopausal women. Being tall was positively associated with getting all types of cancer, including cancers of the thyroid, breast, colon, and ovaries.

Height was found to have a modest, but statistically significant, impact upon acquisition of cancer.

The researchers analyzed data from women who did not have a prior history of cancer. They also attempted to adjust for weight and body mass index.

Many variables may have had an impact on study findings, in addition to height. For example, rates of smoking and alcohol intake were shown to increase with increasing height.

Education level, ethnicity, income level, plus use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy, may all have had an impact. Rates of cancer screenings were found to play no role in study findings.

Venous thromboembolism (VTE)

Recurrences of VTE were found to occur more often in taller women than in those of shorter stature in multiple studies. In this instance, simply having longer legs and longer veins where a thrombus might occur may be the reason.

Age, obesity, and long-term hospitalizations are other potential risk factors for this condition.

Many factors impact upon longevity, and height may be one of them. However, this doesn’t mean that taller people are destined to live short lives, or that short people are destined to live long ones.

Lifestyle choices can also greatly impact disease acquisition and longevity. To be healthier and potentially increase your lifespan, you can:

  • stop smoking or vaping
  • reduce alcohol consumption
  • exercise
  • eat healthy food full of nutrients and antioxidants
  • reduce consumption of sugar, fast food, and processed food
  • lose weight if you are overweight
  • reduce stress
  • live in a location with less pollution

Multiple studies have found a correlation between height and longevity. Short people have been found to resist certain diseases such as cancer, and to live longer lives.

But these studies, while compelling, are far from conclusive. The best thing you can do if you’re concerned about longevity is to make lifestyle choices that have a positive effect on your lifespan — regardless of how tall you are.