Height loss boosts death riskMarked loss of height in older men is linked with a significantly increased risk of death and coronary heart disease (CHD), reported researchers in England.

British Regional Heart Study investigators measured the height of 4,213 men twice—first when they were aged 40-59 and again 20 years later when they were between the ages of 60 and 79. Results showed that a height loss of 3 cm (1.18 in) or more—which occurred in about 15% of the men—was associated with a significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality. The excess deaths were largely attributable to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions as well as other causes but not to cancer.

Doctors are not sure why a loss of height is hazardous. Although osteoporosis is linked to increased death risk, osteoporosis usually brings a height loss of about 6 cm—considerably more than was found in this study.

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Height loss was also strongly associated with physical inactivity and a number of indicators of ill health, including reduced lung function, COPD, musculoskeletal and joint disorders, and weight loss, among others. “Height loss may be a marker for sarcopenia and frailty in older men,” wrote the authors. “Further studies are warranted to understand the nature of this relationship” (Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166:2546-2552).