June 3, 2022 – It’s long been known that tall people have an increased risk for several diseases, including irregular heartbeat and varicose veins. But a study adds new conditions to that list: nerve damage in the arms and legs, as well as skin and bone infections.

That said, being tall does have health advantages, such as a lowered risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, according to the study published in PLOS Genetics.

The researchers used data from the VA Million Veteran Program to look at genetic and health information for more than 200,000 white adults and more than 50,000 Black adults. The researchers looked at more than 1,000 medical conditions and traits overall.

“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,” Sridharan Raghavan, MD, of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, who led the research, said in a news release.

“We conclude that height may be an unrecognized non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults.”

While the link between height and common health conditions has been known for a long time, it’s not been clear if being tall or short puts people at risk or whether other things, such as nutrition and social and economic status, are to blame.

The study tried to remove those other factors by looking “at connections between various diseases and a person's actual height, and connections to their predicted height based on their genetics,” the release said.

People in the study had a mean height of 176 centimeters, or 5 feet 9 inches, and were 91.6% male.

The study confirmed previous studies that found people with above-average height have a higher risk for atrial fibrillation and varicose veins, and a lower risk for cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, elevated lipid levels, and coronary heart disease.

One of the new findings was a connection between height and peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage to the extremities, and bone and skin infections, such as leg ulcers.

The researchers said more studies are needed to clarify some of these findings, preferably with a larger, more diverse, and more international study group.

Show Sources

PLOS Genetics: “A multi-population phenome-wide association study of genetically-predicted height in the Million Veteran Program.”

Scimex: “Being tall may impact your risk of multiple diseases.”

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