Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
I recently read an article claiming that there’s never been a better time to be short. Among the upsides the author cited were decreased consumption of precious resources like food and water and correspondingly smaller environmental footprints than our taller counterparts.
As someone who’s spent life in the front row of group photos, I was glad to hear that my height (or lack thereof) made me an accidental conservationist. But the story also made me wonder: Are there any health benefits to being short?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
Well, as someone who’s spent life in the back row of group photos, I’m as interested as you in how height links to health outcomes.
Research on this topic is largely epidemiological. That means scientists study distributions of health outcomes in broader populations for evidence of links between those outcomes and their causes. In these types of studies, it’s often difficult to establish causation, as many other hidden factors can be at play.
In other words, take their results with a grain of salt.
That said, those of us more likely to knock our heads on low ceilings and doorways have been found to have decreased chances of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Conversely, studies have shown we’re at greater risk for varicose veins, irregular heartbeats, nerve damage in the arms and legs, and skin and bone infections.
Meanwhile, those with shorter, smaller bodies may, on average, experience fewer diet-related chronic diseases and live longer. Some researchers have suggested the life expectancy gap between the sexes is, in fact, due to height differences. (The average lifespan for U.S. women is about five years longer than for men, who are about 8% taller.)
In numerous studies, scientists have tied increases in height to higher incidences of cancer, finding correlations in cancers such as melanoma, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Obviously, we can’t change how tall we are. However, we can control our behavior, and as a marathon runner, I thought you’d take heart in a study of elite Finnish athletes: Among all sports, endurance athletes enjoyed the longest life expectancy.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!