My husband and I differ in height by 13 inches, and while I lament the challenges of being shorter, he reassures me that being taller is not always a picnic. The reality is that there are benefits as well as disadvantages linked to body height. According to medical researchers, these benefits and disadvantages are also evident in disease risk.
Cancer plagues a larger number of tall women, considering the average height of American women is 5 feet, 3 inches. Researchers with the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer assessed 47 studies conducted in 14 countries that involved 25,157 women with ovarian cancer and 81,311 women without ovarian cancer. The researchers found a significant increase in relative risk of ovarian cancer per 5 centimetres (2 inches) increase in height. The researchers also determined that the risk did not vary depending on other studied factors, such as “age, year of birth, education, age at menarche, parity, menopausal status, smoking, alcohol consumption, having had a hysterectomy, having first degree relatives with ovarian or breast cancer, using oral contraceptives, or using menopausal hormone therapy.”
Other studies found that being tall was associated with risk of many cancers, including cancers of the thyroid, rectum, kidney, endometrium, colorectum, colon, ovary, and breast, and with multiple myeloma and melanoma.
Shorter women and men are more susceptible to heart disease and researchers have suggested that individuals of smaller stature may have smaller coronary arteries and artery diameters that could contribute to blockages and build-up introduced through poor nutrition and environmental factors. Stroke is also more common among shorter-than-average men, based on an Israeli study of 364 men who died of strokes. The study found a clear significant pattern of declining stroke mortality with increasing body height.
Before the tall men breathe a sigh of relief, they are more likely to face aggressive prostate cancer, based on an average male height of 5 feet, 10 inches. Fortunately, they are less susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease. Men over five feet, ten inches tall had a 59 percent lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s than men under five feet, six inches.
Regardless of your stature and genes, there are numerous environmental and lifestyle factors that can influence the development of disease. Nutrition is a significant factor, especially from infancy as the food you eat plays a critical role in our development. Your decisions to smoke, drink alcohol, use toxic products or live and work in polluted areas will also affect your health.
Knowing the potential risks for disease is important so you can make conscious choices to pre-empt problems later in life. You may not be able to control how tall you grow but a healthy diet, good stress management, exercise, clean air and water, and a loving environment will all help you be healthy at any height.
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