Short people are at greater risk of developing heart disease than tall people, according to the first systematic review and meta-analysis of all the available evidence, which was published on Wednesday 9 June in the European Heart Journal
The systematic review and meta-analysis, carried out by Finnish researchers, looked at evidence from 52 studies of over three million people and found that short adults were approximately 1.5 times more likely to develop cardiovascular heart disease and die from it than were tall people. This appeared to be true for both men and women.
Dr Tuula Paajanen, a researcher at the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland, said that over the years there had been a number of studies that had provided conflicting evidence on whether shortness was associated with heart disease.
"The first report on the inverse association between coronary heart disease (CHD) and height was published in 1951 and, since then, the association between short stature and cardiovascular diseases has been investigated in more than 1,900 papers. However, until now, no systematic review and meta-analysis has been done on this topic. We hope that with this meta-analysis, the association is recognised to be true and in future more effort is targeted to finding out the possible pathophysiological, environmental and genetic mechanisms behind the association, with eyes and minds open to different hypotheses," she said.
Due to the many different ways that previous studies have investigated the association between height and heart disease, Dr Paajanen and her colleagues decided to compare the shortest group to the tallest group instead of using a fixed height limit.
From the total of 1,900 papers, the researchers selected 52 that fulfilled all their criteria for inclusion in their study. These included a total of 3,012,747 patients. On average short people were below 160.5 cms high and tall people were over 173.9 cms. When men and women were considered separately, on average short men were below 165.4 cms and short women below 153 cms, while tall men were over 177.5 cms and tall women over 166.4 cms.
Dr Paajanen and her colleagues found that compared to those in the tallest group, the people in the shortest group were nearly 1.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD) or coronary heart disease (CHD), or to live with the symptoms of CVD or CHD, or to suffer a heart attack, compared with the tallest people.
Looking at men and women separately, short men were 37% more likely to die from any cause compared with tall men, and short women were 55% more likely to die from any cause compared with their taller counterparts.
"Due to the heterogeneity of studies, we cannot reliably answer the question on the critical absolute height," write the authors in their study. "The height cut-off points did not only differ between the articles but also between men and women and between ethnic groups. This is why we used the shortest-vs.-tallest group setting."
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