One always hears that tall men have an economic advantage in the workplace. Is there any advantage when it comes to health? Do shorter men have fewer arthritic problems than tall men? Does height have any effect on life expectancy?
—Felix N. Chien, DO, Newport Beach, Calif.
Studies have shown that increased height does indeed confer a mortality benefit. The Whitehall study, which followed more than 18,000 men in the United Kingdom for years, is probably the best known one to have demonstrated this phenomenon. Respiratory disease seems to have the strongest inverse association with height. Cardiovascular disease also is inversely affected, but more so by subjects' leg length, which may be a marker of prepubertal nutrition (Am J Epidemiol. 2006;164:136-142). The effect appears to be independent of socioeconomic status, although it is felt that height likely serves as a marker of improved nutrition during childhood. Cancer does not appear to be inversely affected, with some studies showing a slightly higher risk in taller subjects (Ann Oncol. 2006;17:157-166), which may be attributable to higher childhood caloric intake. Some studies have shown an association between taller stature and increased back pain as well as increased osteoarthritis of the hip (Am J Epidemiol. 2000;152:855-862); other studies, however, have not demonstrated an increase in arthritis in tall subjects.
—Seonaid Hay, MD, assistant professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. (98-12)