Little Association Between Height and Longevity in a Large Study Population

While looking at the results of this epidemiological study, it is worth noting that height is entangled in the web of correlations that involve socioeconomic status and longevity. Greater height is thought to reduce life expectancy via mechanisms such as (a) greater cancer risk, because more cells in the body means a higher chance of a cancerous mutation occurring in one of those cells, and (b) higher levels of growth hormone. Recall that reduced growth hormone signaling slows aging in mammals. The socioeconomic status benefits of height may offset that, perhaps via a higher status peer group tending to encourage the adoption of better lifestyle choices. These are not large effect sizes in the grand scheme of things, however. Even a poor rejuvenation therapy, or a modest age-slowing therapy would make the effects of height irrelevant.

To date, numerous studies have reported that taller individuals are healthier and live longer. Nevertheless, the association between adult stature and longevity involves conflicting findings. This study investigated whether taller Polish adults live longer than their shorter counterparts. Data on declared height were available from 848,860 individuals who died in the years 2004-2008 in Poland. To allow for the cohort effect, the Z-values were generated. Separately for both sexes, Pearson's r coefficients of correlation were calculated. Subsequently, one way ANOVA was performed.

The correlation between adult height and longevity was negative and statistically significant in both men and women. After eliminating the effects of secular trends in height, the correlation was very weak (r = -0.0044 in men and r = -0.0038 in women) but significant (p = 0.023 and p = 0.022, respectively). On balance, these findings do not bear out the hypothesis that taller individuals have a longevity advantage. Since taller stature had a predictable effect on lifespan in the oldest old (85+), these results strongly suggest that longevity favours smaller people.

We discuss these findings in an attempt to identify the biological mechanisms that might be responsible for greater longevity in smaller people. We also analyze selected anthropological factors that pertain to height and longevity.


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