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Tall Height Impacts Risk of Multiple Diseases

Largest study of relationship between tall height and disease determines height risk factor for conditions, including peripheral neuropathy, skin and bone conditions

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What You Need To Know

Researchers have determined that height contributes to a number of common health conditions, and not just factors affecting height. In the largest study of its kind, experts examined data from the VA Million Veteran Program, looking at more than 1,000 traits and conditions.

Short people might be the same as you and me, unless you’re tall.

A new study published today in PLOS Genetics confirms that being tall does, in fact, contribute to a number of common health conditions – not just the factors affecting height, such as early development, nutrition or socioeconomic status.

Researchers, led by Sridharan Raghavan, MD, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, examined genetic and health data from 250,000 veterans from the VA Million Veteran Program, using genetic tools to identify the relationship between height and the development of diseases. Previous studies aimed at linking tall height to diseases examined up to 50 genetic traits; now, researchers looked at more than 1,000 traits and conditions, making it the largest study of the relationship of height to health conditions to date.

“Until this point, researchers haven’t been able to explicitly determine whether patients are at risk for something because of their tall height,” said Raghavan, who also works with the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Center. “Using different genetic methods, we expanded on previous research to determine a relationship between height and more than 100 clinical traits and can conclude that height is a risk factor for the development of a number of conditions in adults.”

These conditions include higher risk of varicose veins and atrial fibrillation, as well as lower risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease. Additionally, researchers discovered associations between height and higher risk for peripheral neuropathy and various skin and bone diseases, such as leg and foot ulcers.  

“These results are an exciting first step toward using easily measured factors like height to identify individuals at increased disease risk to whom we can offer potential preventative therapies,” Raghavan said. “Our wide-in-scope hypothesis determined height is a factor. We're scratching the surface in uncovering the mechanisms – the why – of how height relates to disease.”