Health and Your Height: The Research Highs and Lows

By Martha Michael

Height Health

When Tolkien fans recognize National Hobbit Day on September 22, it naturally brings thoughts to the issue of size. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, such as the fact that, when it comes to your health, height makes a difference.

An article by the Huffington Post points out seven health outcomes related to your height that are worth looking at from above.

Diabetes and Heart Disease

You may be doing your part to prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease and diabetes through diet and exercise, but there may be genetic factors working against you. According to experts, the shorter you are, the greater your chance of developing these conditions.

The explanation for it may be that shorter people have less robust blood vessels, says Mary Schooling, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health and Health Policy. But she also says you can reverse that logic and favor an explanation that puts nurture over nature. An individual may be taller as a result of lifestyle, such as eating healthier food as a child or because they live somewhere with fewer infections and diseases.

“We don’t know for sure if it’s really, truly the height, or whether it’s something else which makes you taller and protects you against cardiovascular disease,” Schooling says.

Blood Clots

When you look like Betty Grable and your “legs go all the way up,” you may get more friendly attention, but the drawback is a greater risk of contracting a blood clot. There are circumstances that exacerbate the problem, including:

  • Sitting for long periods, such as airplane flight
  • Recovering from surgery
  • Wearing a cast
  • Holding a sedentary job

A Norwegian study found an increased risk of venous thromboembolism, or VTE, in tall individuals, particularly if they’re also obese. According to the Journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, it’s the third most common cardiovascular disease in America and VTE is due, in part, to genetics. Tall men have the greatest risk and it can have fatal results.

Transplant

Whether or not you’re tall may seem like an unrelated factor, but research shows that the shortest people on the lung transplant list wait the longest for the surgery.

A study reported at the American Thoracic Society International Conference says that individuals shorter than 5 feet 3 inches have a greater chance of dying while waiting for a lung transplant than other patients.

“A height of less than 162 cm (about 5-3) was associated with a 60 percent relative increase in the one-year mortality rate, a 34 percent relative decrease in the one-year transplant rate, and a 39 percent relative increase in the one-year respiratory failure rate compared with those of average height,” says an article about the report in Science Daily.

Cancer

Because cancer can be defined as “abnormal cell growth,” it stands to reason that those with more cells would contract the disease in greater numbers. Research supports that theory.

Tall people are more likely to contract certain cancers, specifically hormone-related cancers, Schooling says. A few examples of mutations which are fueled by hormones are cancers of the ovaries, breast and prostate.

Lifespan

Your longevity is also linked to your height. Shorter individuals live longer, according to research. Scientists have isolated genes that are linked to both smaller stature and longer life.

Also, studies say that research with rats shows that those who grow the fastest and become the largest don’t live as long as smaller rats.

Injuries

Levels of coordination vary among individuals, but if you’re on the short side you’re more likely to be more coordinated than your tallest counterparts. There’s a dual problem for people with height: In addition to being more accident prone, they are a greater distance from the ground, which means there’s more impact when they fall. Hip fractures are more prevalent in tall people.

And among athletes, research shows that towering players sustain injuries at higher rates and have slower recoveries than smaller individuals.

Neck, Back and Spine Problems

Your posture at work makes a difference where your health is concerned, and your height can have a bearing on your physical position, which some people hold for hours at a time. If you’re not close to average height -- 5-9 for men and 5-4 for women -- then you’re more likely to develop back or neck problems.

When you consider the universal nature of most office designs, it isn’t a surprise to hear that people outside the norm are hit the hardest with neck and back problems because the size isn’t ideal. Ergonomically correct workspaces and cubicles minimize the chance of spine injuries in both ends of the spectrum -- tall employees and those who are shorter than average.

You can’t do anything about your height, and in some cases, you can’t change your workspace. But you can make chiropractic care a part of your routine to minimize damage. Maintaining a healthy spine goes a long way to counteract the effect of poorly designed office furniture.

Tall or small, nearly everyone experiences injuries at some point in their lives. When your chiropractor has a baseline of your health history, designing a treatment program is easier and more effective. Your height may feel like the short end of the stick, but chiropractic may help normalize the odds.

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