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Adult height has been associated with several clinical traits. It is unclear whether this correlation has a biological basis or results from other variables.

Part of a person’s adult height is determined by genes inherited from their parents. However, environmental factors such as diet, socioeconomic status, and demographics (such as age or gender) influence eventual size. Establishing a link between height and disease risk can be difficult.

A new study from the VA Million Veteran Program (MVP) has found that a person’s height can affect their risk for several common health conditions in adulthood. Significant findings include a link between height and a lower risk of coronary heart disease and a link between height and a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy and circulatory disorders.

Scientists explored the link between height and health conditions by examining genetic and medical data from more than 280,000 MVP-enrolled veterans. They compared this data to a list of 3,290 height-related genetic variations from a recent genome study.

They found that risk levels for 127 different medical conditions are linked to the genetically determined height of white patients. Because black patients are less well represented in genetic studies, limited data is available on them. However, height-associated medical characteristics were relatively consistent between black and white individuals in this study.

In the MVP study, nearly 21% of veterans were black. At least 48 of the links found in white patients were also found in black patients. According to the scientists, all of the most critical findings, with height being linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease and a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, peripheral neuropathy and circulatory problems, were identified in black and white participants. .

Overall, depending on condition, genetically predicted height was associated with lower and higher disease risk. Tall people seem less likely to have cardiovascular problems. Being taller was associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary heart disease. However, taller participants had a higher risk of atrial fibrillation. The previous study demonstrated these links.

Being tall, on the other hand, can increase the risk of the majority of studied non-cardiovascular diseases. This was particularly the case for peripheral neuropathies and circulatory disorders involving the veins.

Dr. Sridharan Raghavan of the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, who led the study, said: “The findings on peripheral neuropathy are particularly exciting.”

When he discussed the findings with fellow clinicians who regularly see patients with peripheral neuropathy, they confirmed that tall people often have the worst neuropathy. Yet they were unaware of other studies describing this association.

Other problems include cellulitis, skin abscesses, chronic leg ulcers, osteomyelitis, circulatory disorders such as varicose veins and thrombosis – blood clots in the veins – deformities of the toes and feet, conditions which could be caused by increased weight in tall people.

The study also showed that height increases the risk of asthma and nonspecific nerve disorders in women but not in men.

Scientists have noted, “Taken together, the results suggest that height may be an unrecognized but biologically important and immutable risk factor for several common conditions, particularly those affecting the extremities. Considering a person’s height can be useful when assessing risk and monitoring disease.

Raghavan said, “Further research is needed before the results lead to changes in clinical care.”

“I think our findings are the first step towards disease risk assessment in that we identify conditions for which height might really be a risk factor. Future work should assess whether incorporating height into disease risk assessments can inform strategies to modify other risk factors for specific conditions.

Journal reference:

  1. Sridharan Raghavan, Jie Huang, et al. A multi-population-wide association study of the genetically predicted height phenome in the Million Veteran Program. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010193