8 Strange Ways Your Height May Affect Your Health

Updated: Mar. 17, 2022

Whether you’re a beanpole or a shrimp, your height influences your life in more ways than just fueling childhood nicknames.


Tall: Lower risk of heart disease

One of the most clear associations between height and health is that tall folks may have healthier hearts. According to a review of 52 studies involving more than 3 million men and women published in the European Heart Journal, shorter people are 50 percent more likely to suffer from deadly heart disease than their taller counterparts. Women who are 5 feet 8 inches are 28 percent less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who are 5 feet 3 inches, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. For every two-and-a-half inches taller you are than someone of the same sex, your risk of heart disease goes down by 14 percent. Regardless of your stature, these cardiologist-approved lifestyle tips can help you reduce your risk of heart disease.


Tall: Lower risk of type 2 diabetes (but only for women)

A meta-analysis of 18 studies by Iranian researchers revealed that the taller a woman is, the less likely she is to develop type 2 diabetes. The same wasn’t true for towering males, who had a similar diabetes risk no matter their height. While researchers aren’t sure why only tall females score these perks, a new study from the Netherlands found that tall people are more sensitive to insulin and have lower fat content in their liver, which may explain their lowered risk for diabetes. Find out the little habits you’re doing that hurt your health.


Tall: Higher risk of cancer

Now for a downside of being tall: It’s associated with an increased risk in almost every type of cancer—and for both genders. For every four-inch increase in height, women are 13 percent more likely to develop some 19 types of cancer, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention. Specifically, leggy ladies were up to 17 percent more likely to develop melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, endometrium, and colon, and up to 29 percent more likely to develop cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid, and blood. Tall men are more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Tall people have more cells in their body, so there’s a higher likelihood that any one of them will become cancerous. But a recent study from the Netherlands found that while tall people are in utero, their insulin-like growth factor systems are activated earlier than in short folks, which may in turn permanently activate cell growth, leading to increased risk of certain cancers. Here are 30 easy ways to cut your own cancer risk.


Short: Lower likelihood of blood clots

If you clock in at under 5 feet 3 inches and a healthy weight, you’re three times less likely to get a blood clot than your tall friends, according to a study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. Norweigan researchers speculate it’s because the blood has to be pumped a longer distance in taller folks, which could reduce flow and increase risk for a stroke-causing clot. Luckily, obesity was an even greater predictor of blood clots than height, so if you’re taller than 5 feet 3 inches and want to lower your risk, keep your weight in a healthy range.


Short: Riskier pregnancy

Researchers at the City University of New York looked at more than 220,000 expectant mothers and found that those who were slightly taller than average (5 feet 6 inches) were anywhere from 18 to 59 percent less likely to develop gestational diabetes—a form of high blood sugar that only affects pregnant women—than 5-foot-2 expectant moms, according to a 2014 study in Diabetic Medicine. The researchers speculate that the genes of those who are vertically challenged somehow affect their glucose tolerance. Another study last year in PLOS Medicine found that being pint-sized and pregnant is associated with an increased risk of having a shorter pregnancy and preterm birth.


Tall: Lower risk of Alzheimer’s

Men who are over 5 feet 10 inches are 59 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who are shorter than 5 foot 6, according to a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Tall women see similar perks: A woman who is 5 feet 7 inches is about 50 percent less likely to die from dementia than one who is 5 foot 1, says research from the University of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine.  Rather than genetics, the British scientists point to other environmental factors associated with smaller stature, such as childhood illness, stress, and poor nutrition. Learn the 51 brilliant health tricks you’ll want to make a habit.


Short: Higher risk of stroke

When Israeli researchers looked at more than 10,000 men, they found that the shortest group was 54 percent more likely to have a fatal stroke compared to the tallest. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology also found that shorter women were more likely to have a fatal stroke than tall women. What does stature have to do with strokes? Researchers aren’t quite sure, but they suspect that poor nutrition during growing years or an altered hormonal pattern could be the link between stunted growth and stroke risk. Don’t miss these 35 health secrets your body is trying to tell you.


Short: Longer life

Enduring the shrimp jokes may be worth this perk: When researchers looked at soldiers who reached 70 years old, men who clocked in at under 5 feet 4 inches lived two years longer than others, according to a study in Biodemography and Social Biology. A different study from the same research team found that among American men, those who were shorter and lighter lived longer than the taller and heavier. The researchers are quick to point out that height is just one factor contributing to longevity among other more important ones, such as body weight, genetics, stress, smoking, and drinking habits.

However, in 2014, scientists at the University of Hawaii actually found that a specific gene—which has been dubbed “the longevity gene”—has a direct influence on both a longer lifespan and short stature. Next, learn the habits that increase your chances of becoming a centenarian.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest