Petite people may be getting the short end of the health stick. A new study reveals that men under 5′ 5″ and women under 5′ tall may be 50 percent more likely than taller people to suffer heart attacks, according to a report in the European Heart Journal.
“Older people are shorter,” according to the study’s lead author, Tuula Paajanen, M.D., a researcher at Finland’s University of Tampere. “Also, you have to remember that height is at least a combination of genetics, socioeconomic status, and nutritional status. So when using heights, we are also thinking about some confounding factors.” Paajanen and her research team analyzed data from 52 quality studies of more than three million individuals. Literally hundreds of studies – some dating back to the early 1950s – have investigated the possible link between height and heart disease. The current study is the first systematic examination and analysis of the earlier studies on the subject.
Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the cardiovascular sciences division at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, cautioned that the study’s “major limitation is a failure to take into account confounding factors. It’s much easier to measure somebody’s height than it is to measure lots of other fundamental factors that could affect height.” He noted that nutrition is a vital environmental factor that impacts height and heart health alike. Jaako Tuomilehto, M.D., a professor in the public health department at the University of Helsinki, says that children who received inadequate nourishment before and after birth, tend to grow more slowly.
While acknowledging the study’s limitations, Paajanen says “People have no control over their height or genetics, but they can control their weight and lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and exercise. All of these together affect heart disease risk. The more risk factors you have, the more effort you should concentrate to reduce the risk factors you can.”