Taller people have an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, as well as skin and bone infections, but a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to the world’s largest study of height and disease.
A person’s height raises and reduces their risk of a variety of diseases, according to the research led by Sridharan Raghavan of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in the US. The findings are published in the journal PLOS Genetics.
Height has been a factor associated with multiple common conditions, ranging from heart disease to cancer. But scientists have struggled to determine whether being tall or short is what puts people at risk, or if factors that affect height, such as nutrition and socioeconomic status, are actually to blame.
In the study, researchers set out to remove these confounding factors by looking separately at connections between various diseases and a person’s actual height, and connections to their predicted height based on their genetics.
The team used data from the VA Million Veteran Program, including genetic and health information from more than 200,000 white adults and more than 50,000 black adults. The study looked at more than 1,000 conditions and traits, making it the largest study of height and disease to date.
The results confirmed previous findings from smaller studies that being tall is linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation and varicose veins, and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Researchers also uncovered new associations between being taller and a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy, which is caused by damage to nerves on the extremities, as well as skin and bone infections such as leg and foot ulcers.
The researchers now believe height may be a previously unrecognised risk factor for several common diseases. However, they cautioned that more studies were needed to clarify some of the findings, and future work would benefit from studying a more diverse international population.
“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,” said Raghavan. “We conclude that height may be an unrecognised non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults.”