Short Stature Connected to an Increased Risk for Heart Problems

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According to CDC data, the average American male stands at 5’9 ½ inches and the average female is 5’4”. A new study from Finland has found that those of shorter stature, described as under 5’5” tall for a man and 5’0” for a woman, are at a 50% higher risk of having heart problems.

Previous studies have suggested a link between height and cardiovascular issues such as angina, heart attack, and angioplasty. A team of researchers from the University of Tampere reviewed 52 such studies that included data on more than 3 million men and women. Height was not measured objectively, but assessed within the context of a particular region’s population.

Shorter people were found to have a one and a half time greater risk of heart problems, including mortality from heart issues, than those who are at least 5’8” (men) or 5’6” (women).
Short men had a 37% increased risk for dying from any cause, and short women, a 55% increased risk. Both men and women had a 52% increase risk of having a heart attack if shorter.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why stature is linked to heart disease risk; however some theories have been formulated. Individual height is genetically determined, which suggests the possibility of an inherited factor.

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Growth is also recognized as a measure of the health of an individual. For example, those who are undernourished are not only shorter, but also more vulnerable to health problems in general. Shorter people also have smaller, more narrowed arteries, which could theoretically become clogged more easily by cholesterol or damaged by changes in blood pressure.

In 2004, researcher John Komlos of Munich University made an interesting observation that connected American’s stature with the growing obesity epidemic. He said that in the early 20th century, American men were on average 5’10”, whereas now they are about one-half inch less. He postulated that Americans were shrinking in size because of expanding waistlines related to a poor diet filled with fast foods and inadequate vitamins and minerals. Both obesity and inadequate diet are heart disease risk factors.

Joep Perk, spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, says that it is premature for cardiologists to consider height as a risk factor.

Tuula Paajanen MD, lead author of the study, agrees. “Height is only one factor (among many) that may contribute to heart disease risk,” she said. People should focus on preventable risk factors such as smoking cessation (which can reduce risk by up to four times), improving diet, and increasing physical activity. “Those are easier to change than your height,” she says.

Source reference:
Paajanen T, et al "Short stature is associated with coronary heart disease: a systematic review of the literature and a meta-analysis" Eur Heart J 2010; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehq155.

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