The shorter you are the longer you live – Is this a tall story?

It would appear that shorter people and taller people exhibit differences in longevity.

There are things that you can change that will impact your lifespan, (diet and exercise behavior, avoiding smoking, reducing stress, getting married and having children, etc…) but beyond that are other aspects that cannot be modified, such as height … oh dear.

One very interesting place is a Sardinian village in Italy that is known as a global “blue zone,” that is a place where the likelihood of living to 100 is exceptionally high. As a result, they have been studied extensively looking for clues to this  long lifespan.  Well, in a new study researchers analyzed the role of a person’s height in their eventual lifespan, so what did they discover?

What did they measure: They  analyzed the height of men when they entered the military at age 20 between the years of 1866 and 1915.

How big a data sample was it? A total of 685 subjects were analysed.

These heights were then related to the persons eventual age at death, and the conclusion was …

… shorter people and taller people exhibit differences in longevity. Although a tall body generally reflects abundant nutrition and good living conditions during the growth period, this height has negative ramifications as well. Biological mechanisms indicate that a larger body places greater stress on cells, tissues, and organs, which can reduce longevity.

The results of this study on Villagrande Strisaili conscripts represents an example of a population in which short individuals record better survival estimates at more advanced ages than do taller individuals. The analysis shows that at age 70, short conscripts have a life expectancy that is two years higher than that of their taller peers. It is clear from earlier Sardinian research and studies from other parts of the world that shorter height is more likely to promote longevity when a population is exposed to a life-long healthful diet and lifestyle.

So there you have it … now we know the truth …

Short Men live Longer” – screams the Daily Mail

They point to the above study and advise that it confirms that short people live two years longer.

Now some questions …

  • Do you believe this to be true because the Daily Mail tells you it is? … No … well, that’s a good start.
  • OK, so you have the study… real data …do you believe it now?

Ah but wait, what do we actually know?

  • A 2 year difference is not all that great
  • It was only men who entered the military
  • It was a data sample of 685 in one specific region only

So think about it now, can this be a final definitive answer? Simple answer for you is no. “Oh”, you might comment, “Why not?”.  Well basically because the media greatly simplifies it all too much. What about all the other possible factors, as the authors of the study point out “life table estimates simplify the estimation to an average and are not able to capture differences, producing bias as a result of both the selection process and the changing composition of the population at risk.”

It was not a unique study and in fact does supplement a number of previous studies on the relationship between height and longevity, but in the greater and wider context, other studies have reinforced the idea that taller people are healthier and less
prone to cardiovascular diseases … oh!

So yes, it is an interesting result, but a lot more study is needed. You do indeed have an observed correlation for this one village, but there is simply not enough evidence (yet) to declare a causal relationship between height and lifespan for them, or even if it applies in a wider context at all. In might indeed hint that being short really does help, but now that you can see things a bit more clearly, as with many things in life, it is just not that simple or definitive (yet).


Study is here


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