Short people have a higher risk of getting heart disease when compared to tall people. This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis and systematic review of all available evidence. The report is in the June 9, 2010 online European Heart Journal.
The investigation covered 52 studies worth over three million people. Short people were about one and a half times more likely to get cardiovascular disease, as well as succumb to it, than were tall people — for women and men.
For this comprehensive analysis, which involved 1,900 papers, the shortest group of individuals was compared to the tallest group. The short subjects on average were below 5’3, and the tall patients were over 5’8 and a half. The gender breakdown was: Short men were under 5’5, and short women stood below five feet. Tall men stood over about 5’10, and tall women exceeded 5’5 and a half.
Patients in the shortest group were about one and a half times more likely to have fatal coronary artery disease or cardiovascular disease, as well as survive but suffer the symptoms (including heart attack), as opposed to the tallest patients.
And it gets more intriguing: Short women were 55 percent more likely to die from any cause than taller women, and for short men, the percentage was 37 percent.
“The results of this systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that height may be considered as a possible independent factor to be used in calculating people’s risk of heart disease,” says Dr Tuula Paajanen, a researcher at the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.
As glaring as this association with height and heart disease is, the researchers do not know why being short increases risk of heart disease. One hypothesis is that a shorter individual has smaller coronary arteries – which may become blocked sooner in life, but due to variables like poor nutrition and infection — which may stunt childhood growth. Another possibility looks at inherited factors. More research is in progress.
Nevertheless, short people should not worry, says Dr. Paajanen. After all, height is one of many factors that may affect risk of heart disease. You can’t control your height, but you can control lifestyle habits.
Jaakko Tuomilehto, Professor of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, believes that environmental factors that influence height may be at play. For example, stunted early growth leading to short adulthood height can be caused by socioeconomic disadvantages in childhood.
He explains, “The so-called catch-up growth during the first years of life among children who are born small has negative health effects in adulthood; much of the early growth is due to greater fat accumulation. Thus, it is most likely that short stature is the link to coronary heart disease, and that tallness is not a primary factor in preventing the disease, although it indicates healthy growth. Short stature seems to be a marker for risk.”
Though this may seem like bad news for short people, tall folks should not feel protected from heart disease, says Tuomilehto. Shorter people should be more vigilant about protecting themselves from heart disease, yet at the same time, tall men and women should not get smug; they, too, need to take measures to minimize risk of heart disease, America’s No. 1 killer.