Tall stature increases the risk of certain conditions and diseases - new research

Tall man leaning his elbow on head of much shorter man
Being tall may not be all its cracked up to be. Photo credit: Getty Images

Whether you are tall or short, your height will increase your risk of contracting a variety of diseases, according to new international research.

While being tall is linked to a higher risk of irregular heartbeat and varicose veins, as well as damage to nerves in the extremities and infections of the skin and bone, it also lowers your risk of coronary heart disease, according to the study, which was led by assistant professor Sridharan Raghavan of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Colorado, US.

Height has long been a factor associated with multiple conditions, ranging from heart disease to cancer. But scientists have struggled to determine if height, whether tall or short, is actually what puts people at risk of developing these conditions - or if factors that affect height, like nutrition and socioeconomic status, are really to blame.

In the study, researchers set out to remove these confounding factors by looking separately at the links between various diseases and a person's height, as well as connections to their predicted height based on their genetics. The team used genetic data obtained from the VA Million Veteran Program, which included the electronic health records for more than 200,000 white adults and more than 50,000 Black adults.

The results confirmed previous findings that being tall is linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation and varicose veins, but a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

The study also uncovered new associations between greater height and a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy, a condition caused by damage to nerves of the extremities, as well as infections of the skin and bone, such as leg and foot ulcers.

Overall the researchers analysed more than 1000 conditions and traits, making it the largest study of height and disease to date. 

The researchers concluded that height may be a previously unrecognised risk factor for several common conditions in adults. However, they say more studies are needed to clarify some of these links, and future studies would benefit from including a larger, more diverse international population.

"Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran Program, 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, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine in Denver.

"We conclude that height may be an unrecognised non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults."

The research article, 'A multi-population phenome-wide association study of genetically-predicted height in the Million Veteran Program', was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS Genetics on June 2.