The relationship between adult stature and longevity: tall men are unlikely to outlive their short peers – evidence from a study of all adult deaths in Poland in the years 2004–2008

Open access


Early epidemiological studies demonstrated that short stature is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, lower energy intake or food deprivation during growth, poor health, and increased all-cause mortality. Nevertheless, the links between adult height and longevity become tenuous if certain confounders (e.g. BMI, SES, educational attainment, etc.) are allowed for. Furthermore, numerous studies have found that like excess weight, tallness is costly in terms of longevity in late ontogeny, and shorter people tend to outlive their taller peers, especially if they are slim and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. Therefore, there is currently a lack of agreement in the literature as to whether and how body height and lifespan are linked. The objective of this study was to explore the relationship between adult stature and longevity on the basis of a large sample from a population-based cohort study. Data on declared height and exact dates of birth and death were available from 480,493 men and 364,666 women who died in the years 2004-2008 in Poland. To control for secular changes, the sample was divided into fifteen birth cohorts and each group was subsequently split into five height categories using pentiles, separately for both sexes. The analysis has revealed an inverse relationship between height and lifespan in men and women. However, after controlling for secular changes in height, the relationship turned out to be very weak and linear in men, and inverted U-shaped in women. In general, taller individuals had lower age at death compared to shorter ones, and this relationship was more pronounced and consistent in men. To sum up, these findings do not comport with the traditional belief that taller individuals live longer. The role of several possible biological mechanisms pertinent to enhanced longevity in smaller individuals was emphasized, and these biological factors were discussed.

Allebeck P, Bergh C. 1992. Height, body mass index and mortality: do social factors explain the association? Public Health 106:375-82.

Austad SN. 2006. Why women live longer than men: sex differences in longevity. Gender Medicine 3:79-92.

Austad SN. 2010. Animal size, metabolic rate, and survival, among and within species. In: NS Wolf, editor. The comparative biology of aging. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Baradaran A, Nasri H, Rafieian-Kopaei M. 2014. Oxidative stress and hypertension: possibility of hypertension therapy with antioxidants. J Res Med Sci 19:358-67.

Bartke A. 2012. Healthy aging: is smaller better? Gerontology 58:337-43.

Bartke A, Sun LY, Longo V. 2013. Somatotropic signaling: trade-offs between growth, reproductive development, and longevity. Physiol Rev 93:571-98.

Batty GD, Shipley MJ, Gunnell D, Huxley R, Kivimaki M, Woodward M, Lee CM, Smith GD. 2009. Height, wealth, and health: an overview with new data from three longitudinal studies. Econ Hum Biol 7:137-52.

Blagosklonny MV. 2013. Big mice die young but large animals live longer. Aging 5:227-33.

Bowring AL, Peeters A, Freak-Poli R, Lim MS, Gouillou M, Hellard M. 2012. Measuring the accuracy of self-reported height and weight in a community-based sample of young people. BMC Medical Research Methodology 12:175.

Brener ND, McManus T, Galuska D, Clowry R, Wechsler H. 2003. Reliability and validity of self-reported height and weight among high school students. J Adolesc Health 32:281-87.

Cairns BJ, Green J. 2013. Good news for “Alice”: height and sex differences in cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst 105:841-3.

Caruso C, Accardi G, Virruso C, Candore G. 2013. Sex, gender and immunosenescence: a key to understand the different lifespan between men and women? Immunity & Ageing 10:20.

Cavelaars A, Kunst AE, Geurts JJM, Crialesi R, Grotvedt L, Helmert U, Lahelma E, Lundberg O, Mielck A, Rasmussen NK, Regidor E, Spuhler T, Mackenbach JP 2000. Persistent variations in average height between countries and between socioeconomic groups: an overview of 10 European countries. Ann Hum Biol 27:407-21.

Chmielewski P, Borysławski K. 2015. Characterization and determinants of seasonality of deaths in Poland: a biodemographic approach. In: D Nowakowski, K Borysławski, M Synowiec-Piłat, B Kwiatkowska, editors. Health problems of older people and associated ca ring aspects. Monographs of Physical Anthropology Vol. 3. Published online:

Chmielewski P, Borysławski K, Chmielowiec K, Chmielowiec J. 2015a. Height loss with advancing age in a hospitalized population of Polish men and women: magnitude, pattern and associations with mortality. Anthropol Rev 78(2):157-68.

Chmielewski P, Borysławski K, Chmielowiec K, Chmielowiec J. 2015b. Longitudinal and cross-sectional changes with age in selected anthropometric and physiological traits in hospitalized adults: and insight from the Polish Longitudinal Study of Aging (PLSA). Anthropol Rev 78(3):317-36.

Chmielewski P, Borysławski K, Strzelec B. 2016a. Contemporary views on human aging and longevity. Anthropol Rev 79(2):115-42.

Chmielewski P, Borysławski K, Chmielowiec J, Chmielowiec K. 2016b. Ubytki wysokości ciała a ryzyko zgonu u osób starszych. Gerontologia Współczesna 4(2):73-80.

Chmielewski PP, Borysławski K, Chmielowiec J, Chmielowiec K, Strzelec B. 2016c. The association between total leukocyte count and longevity: Evidence from longitudinal and cross-sectional data. Ann Anat 204:1-10.

Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, Cushman WC, Green LA, Izzo JL Jr, Jones DW, Materson BJ, Oparil S, Wright JT Jr, Roccella EJ; Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National High Blood Pressure Education Program Coordinating Committee. 2003. Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. Hypertension 42:1206-52.

Danubio ME, Miranda G, Vinciguerra MG, Vecchi E, Rufo F. 2008. Comparison of self-reported and measured height and weight: Implications for obesity research among young adults. Econ Hum Biol 6:181-90.

Davey Smith G, Hart C, Upton M, Hole D, Gillis C, Watt G, Hawthorne V. 2000. Height and risk of death among men and women: aetiological implications of associations with cardiorespiratory disease and cancer mortality. J Epidemiol Community Health. 54:97-103.

Dieckemann KP, Hartmann JT, Classen J, Lüdde R, Diederichs M, Pichlmeier U. 2008. Tallness is associated with risk of testicular cancer: evidence for the nutrition hypothesis. Br J Cancer 99:1517-21.

Elo IT, Preston SH. 1992. Effects of early-life conditions on adult mortality: a review. Population Index 58:186-212.

Engeland A, Bjørge T, Selmer RM, Tverdal A. 2003. Height and body mass index in relation to total mortality. Epidemiology 14:293-9.

Eskes T, Haanen C. 2007. Why do women live longer than men? Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 133:126-33.

Flegal KM, Graubard BI, Williamson DF, Gail MH. 2005. Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. JAMA 293:1861-7.

Franco OH, Peeters A, Bonneux L, de Laet C. 2005. Blood pressure in adulthood and life expectancy with cardiovascular disease in men and women. Hypertension 46:280-6.

Gavrilova N, Gavrilov LA. 2008. Can exceptional longevity be predicted? Contingencies 2008:82-8.

Giovannelli L, Saieva C, Masala G, Testa G, Salvini S, Pitozzi V, Riboli E, Dolara P, Palli D. 2002. Nutritional and lifestyle determinants of DNA oxidative damage: a study in a Mediterranean population. Carcinogenesis 23:1483-9.

He Q, Morris BJ, Grove JS, Petrovitch H, Ross W, Masaki KH, Rodriguez B, Chen R, Donlon TA, Willcox DC, Willcox BJ. 2014. Shorter men live longer: association of height with longevity and FOXO3 genotype in American men of Japanese ancestry. PLoS One 9:e94385.

Herbert PR, Rich-Edwards JW, Manson JE. 1993. Height and incidence of cardiovascular disease in male physicians. Circulation 88:1437-43.

Heward CB. 2010. An approach to extending human lifespan today. In: GM Fahy, editor. The future of aging. Pathways to human life extension. New York: Springer.

Holl RW, Schröder H, Heinze E. 1991. Are short boys disadvantaged as adults? A re-evaluation of 77 men with constitutional growth delay and (or) familial short stature. Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 116:928-34.

Jiang Y, Marshall R, Walpole S, Prieto-Merino D, Liu DX, Perry JK. 2015. An international ecological study of adult height in relation to cancer incidence for 24 anatomical sites. Cancer Causes Control 26:493-9.

Jousilahti P, Tuomilehto J, Vartiainen E, Eriksson J, Puska P. 2000. Relation of adult height to cause specific and total mortality: a prospective follow-up study of 31, 199 middle-aged men and women in Finland. Am J Epidemiol 151:1112-20.

Kabat GC, Heo M, Kamensky V, Miller AB, Rohan TE. 2013a. Adult height in relation to risk of cancer in a cohort of Canadian women. Int J Cancer 132:1125-32.

Kabat GC, Anderson ML, Heo M, Hosgood HD 3rd, Kamensky V, Bea JW, Hou L, Lane DS, Wactawski-Wende J, Manson JE, Rohan TE. 2013b. Adult stature and risk of cancer at different anatomic sites in a cohort of postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 22:1353-63.

Kannam JP, Levy D, Larson M, Wilson P. 1994. Short stature and risk for mortality and cardiovascular disease events. The Framingham Heart Study. Circulation 90:2241-7.

Kemkes-Grottenthaler A. 2005. The short die young: the interrelationship between stature and longevity - evidence from skeletal remains. Am J Phys Anthropol 128:340-7.

Kirkwood TBL. 2010. Why women live longer. Stress alone does not explain the longevity gap. Sci Am 303:34-5.

Kościński K, Krenz-Niedbała M, Puch EA, Kozłowska- Rajewicz A. 2009. Wielkość ciała a sezon urodzenia. Poznańskie ośmiolatki 2007. Poznań: Monografie Instytutu Antropologii Wydawnictwo UAM. (in Polish)

Kowald A. 2002. Lifespan does not measure ageing. Biogerontology 3:187-90.

Krul AJ, Daanen HA, Choi H. 2010. Self-reported and measured weight, height and body mass index (BMI) in Italy, the Netherlands and North America. Eur J Public Health 21:414-9.

Läärä E, Rantakallio P. 1996. Body size and mortality in women: a 29 year follow up of 12,000 pregnant women in northern Finland. J Epidemiol Community Health 50:408-14.

Lawlor DA, Ebrahim S, Davey-Smith G. 2002. The association between components of adult height and Type II diabetes and insulin resistance: British Women’s Heart and Health Study. Diabetologia 45:1097-106.

Lawlor DA, Taylor M, Davey-Smith G, Gunnell D, Ebrahim S. 2004. Associations of components of adult height with coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women: the British women’s heart and health study. Heart 90:745-9.

Leoncini E, Ricciardi W, Cadoni G, Arzani D, Petrelli L, Paludetti G, Brennan P, Luce D, Stucker I, Matsuo K, Talamini R, La Vecchia C, Olshan AF, Winn DM, Herrero R, Franceschi S, Castellsague X, Muscat J, Morgenstern H, Zhang ZF, Levi F, Dal Maso L, Kelsey K, McClean M, Vaughan TL, Lazarus P, Purdue MP, Hayes RB, Chen C, Schwartz SM, Shangina O, Koifman S, Ahrens W, Matos E, Lagiou P, Lissowska J, Szeszenia-Dabrowska N, Fernandez L, Menezes A, Agudo A, Daudt AW, Richiardi L, Kjaerheim K, Mates D, Betka J, Yu GP, Schantz S, Simonato L, Brenner H, Conway DI, Macfarlane TV, Thomson P, Fabianova E, Znaor A, Rudnai P, Healy C, Boffetta P, Chuang SC, Lee YC, Hashibe M, Boccia S. 2014. Adult height and head and neck cancer: a pooled analysis within the INHANCE Consortium. Euro J Epidemiol 29:35-48.

Liao Y, McGee DL, Cao G, Cooper RS. 1996. Short stature and risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease: negative findings from the NHANES I epidemiologic follow- up study. J Am Coll Cardiol 27:678-82.

Maier AB, Van Heemst D, Westendorp GJ. 2008. Relation between body height and replicative capacity of human fibroblasts in nonagenarians. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 63:43-5.

Miller RA, Harper JM, Galecki A, Burke DT. 2002. Big mice die young: early life body weight predicts longevity in genetically heterogeneous mice. Aging Cell 1:22-9.

Miller RA, Austad SN. 2006. Growth and aging: why do big dogs die young? In: EJ Masoro, SN Austad, editors. Handbook of the biology of aging. 6th edition. San Diego: Academic Press.

Møller AP, Fincher CL, Thornhill R. 2009. Why men have shorter lives than women: effects of resource availability, infectious disease, and senescence. Am J Hum Biol 21:357-64.

Murray JE. 1997. Standards of the present for people of the past. Height, weight, and mortality among men of Amherst College, 1834-1949. The Journal of Economic History 57:585-606.

Nyström Peck M, Vågerö D. 1987. Adult body height and childhood socioeconomic group in the Swedish population. J Epidemiol Community Health 41:333-7.

Özaltin E. 2012. Commentary: The long and short of why taller people are healthier and live longer. Int J Epidemiol 41:1434-5.

Pawłowski B. 2009. Wysokość i długościowe proporcje ciała a atrakcyjność człowieka. In: B Pawłowski, editor. Biologia atrakcyjności człowieka. Warsaw: WUW. 84.

Pawłowski B. 2012. Body height. In: TF Cash, editor. Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. San Diego: Academic Press. 82-8.

Peck AM, Vågerö DH. 1989. Adult body height, self perceived health and mortality in the Swedish population. J Epidemiol Community Health 43:380-4.

Perkins JM, Subramanian SV, Davey Smith G, Özaltin E. 2016. Adult height, nutrition, and population health. Nutr Rev 74:149-65.

Power C, Matthews S. 1997. Origins of health inequalities in a national population sample. Lancet 350:1584-9.

Rattan SIS. 2006. Theories of biological aging: Genes, proteins, and free radicals. Free Radic Res 40:1230-8.

Rollo CD. 2002. Growth negatively impacts the life span of mammals. Evol Dev 4:55-61.

Salaris L, Poulain M, Samaras TT. 2012. Height and survival at older ages among men born in an inland village in Sardinia (Italy), 1866-2006. Biodemography Soc Biol 58:1-13.

Samaras TT. 2014. Evidence from eight different types of studies showing that smaller body size is related to greater longevity. Journal of Scientific Research & Reports 3:2150-60.

Sear R. 2006. Height and reproductive success. How a Gambian population compares with the West. Hum Nat 17:405-18.

Sherry B, Jefferds ME, Grummer-Strawn L. M. 2007. Accuracy of adolescent self-report of height and weight in assessing overweight status. A literature review. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 161:1154-61.

Silventoinen K, Lahelma E, Rahkonen O. 1999. Social background, adult body height and health. Int J Epidemiol 28:911-8.

Song YM, Sung J. 2008. Adult height and the risk of mortality in South Korean women. Am J Epidemiol 168:497-505.

Stindl R. 2004. Tying it all together: telomeres, sexual size dimorphism and the gender gap in life expectancy. Med Hypotheses 62:151-4.

Stini WA. 1969. Nutritional stress and growth: sex difference in adaptive response. Am J Phys Anthropol 31:417-26.

Stini WA. 1978. Early nutrition, growth, disease, and human longevity. Nutrition and Cancer 1:31-9.

Stinson S. 1985. Sex, differences in environmental sensitivity during growth and development. Yearb Phys Anthropol 28:123-47.

Waaler HT. 1984. Height, weight and mortality: The Norwegian experience. Acta Medica Scandinavica Supplement 679:1-56.

Wilhelmsen L, Svärdsudd K, Eriksson H, Rosengren A, Hansson PO, Welin C, Odén A, Welin L. 2011. Factors associated with reaching 90 years of age: a study of men born in 1913 in Gothenburg, Sweden. J Intern Med 269:441-51.

Wirén S, Häggström C, Ulmer H, Manjer J, Bjørge T, Nagel G, Johansen D, Hallmans G, Engeland A, Concin H, Jonsson H, Selmer R, Tretli S, Stocks T, Stattin P. 2014. Pooled cohort study on height and risk of cancer and cancer death. Cancer Causes Control 25:151-9.

Anthropological Review

The Journal of Polish Anthropological Society

Journal Information

CiteScore 2017: 0.70

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.282
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.439


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 107 107 33
PDF Downloads 30 30 12