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

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Abstract

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.

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