The connection between height and the risk of various diseases could be as important as socioeconomic factors, according to research by Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center.
Published in the journal PLOS Genetics, the study of 250,000 people is the world’s largest examination of the connection between height and disease.
Height has long been a factor associated with multiple common conditions, ranging from heart disease to cancer.
However, 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.
They also found that taller people were at a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The researchers now believe that height may be a previously unrecognized 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.
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