Your height and your heart

June 28, 2010 by  

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What does your height have to do with your heart? Well, it seems that shorter people have higher risk for getting heart disease than tall people, according to a meta-analysis by Finnish researchers.

In a world wherein height is a well-prized attribute (think about fashion models and professional athletes), this is another additional blow to short people’s ego. Tell me about it, I’m a small girl living in a continent of giant Europeans.

But we cannot close our eyes to the scientific evidence in front of us. So let’s take a look.

The researchers at the University of Tampere in Finland conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 52 studies which involved more than 3 million people. The shortest group were under 160.5 cm and the tallest were more than 173.9. Genderwise, short women are under 153 cm and tall women above 166.4 whereas short and tall men are below 165.4 cm and 177.5 cm, respectively.

The analysis showed that those in the short group have almost 1.5 times higher likelihood of suffering and dying from cardiovascular or heart disease than the tall people. Again, according to gender, short men have 37% and short women 55% higher likelihood of mortality due to cardiovascular disease than their taller counterparts. However, the authors are quick to point out that they cannot give a “critical absolute height that demarcates between “short” and “tall.”

“Due to the heterogeneity of studies, we cannot reliably answer the question on the critical absolute height. The height cut-off points did not only differ between the articles but also between men and women and between ethnic groups. This is why we used the shortest-vs.-tallest group setting.”

One can only speculate the reasons why short people have this health disadvantage compared to tall people. Here are some ideas.

  • Short people may be easily affected by weight gain. Height is used to calculate body mass index (BMI), which is a widely used to quantify risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Shorter people may have smaller coronary arteries that can get occluded earlier.
  • Poor growth rate during childhood that leads to short height in adulthood has been associated with poor socioeconomic situation, poor nutrition, and more infections.
  • Genetic factors also play an important role in having short height, thus be further investigated.

The authors are quick to reassure us small people not to get too worried.

“Height is only one factor that may contribute to heart disease risk, and whereas people have no control over their height, they can control their weight, lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and exercise and all of these together affect their heart disease risk. In addition, because the average height of populations is constantly increasing, this may have beneficial effect of deaths and illness from cardiovascular disease.”

So do not take your rather short height to heart. Rather, let’s do something about it.

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