When it comes to disease, you may find yourself falling short. A clutch of scientific studies has shown that size does matter and small spells trouble in more ways than one.
Short people are at a greater risk of heart disease than tall people, reported Finnish researchers in the European Heart Journal last week.
A painstaking review of 52 scientific studies of over 3 million (30 lakh) people showed that short adults were 1.5 times more likely to develop cardiovascular heart disease and die from it than tall people. The cut-off height for short people was below 165.4 cm for men and below 153 cm for women, while men over 177.5 cm and women over 166.4 cm were labeled as tall.
This is not the first study linking size to disease. Research has shown that long legs — legs longer than the torso or upper body — not only perk up your social life but also protect you from a clutch of killer diseases, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
While legs give both genders an edge against disease risk, leggy women have the added advantage of lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Scientists from no less than the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported in the journal Neurology that every extra inch of leg reduces their risk by 16 per cent. Women with the shortest arms were 50 per cent more likely to develop the disease than those with longer arms. In men, only arm length was linked to Alzheimer’s, with every extra inch lowering risk by 6 per cent.
Long-limbed women, however, lose the health edge on the cancer front, with the International Journal of Cancer reporting in March this year that they had a higher risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer associated with sun exposure, pale complexions and rare genetic disorders.
The only time when tall is bad is when it comes to breast and colon cancers. Taller women (5 feet 9 inches or taller) have a small increase in risk as compared to shorter women (5 feet 3 inches or shorter), reports the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at the Cornell University.
A possible explanation suggests that the hormones that affect women’s height may also cause an increase in the amount of milk duct tissue in the breast. Since most breast tumours arise from this tissue, more ducts would lead to increased susceptibility to breast cancer.
Other studies found breast and colon cancers more prevalent in long-legged women as well. Several theories, yet unproven, have been offered for the increased risk of these cancers for longer-limbed women. Animal studies suggest an increased risk of cancer when excess calories are consumed during adolescence, which also leads to growth spurts.
It’s even been suggested that taller women have a higher risk of skin cancer because they spend more time in the sun than short women.
There’s more on the legs. Harvard Medical School in Boston reported that people with restless legs syndrome (RLS) — an irresistible urge to move the legs; with the symptoms worse when sitting still — have double the risk of stroke and heart disease compared to people without RLS.
If published papers are anything to go by, doctors should replace stethoscope and expensive high-end tests with a measuring tape.
I’m sure most of them will agree that studying legs is a lot more interesting than the 1001 tomes they spend the best part of their lives cramming up.