Height may be risk factor for multiple health conditions

A large genetic study by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Million Veteran Program (MVP)) has found that a person’s height may affect their risk for several common health conditions in adulthood. Significant findings include a link between height and lower risk of coronary heart disease, and a link between height and higher risk for peripheral neuropathy and circulatory disorders.

The results appeared in the June 2, 2022, issue of the journal PLOS Genetics.

Dr. Sridharan Raghavan from the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, who led the study, described the results as “a significant contribution to understanding how height is related to clinical conditions from an epidemiologic perspective.” More research is needed before the findings might lead to changes in clinical care, says Raghavan. However, the results highlight the association between height and clinical conditions that impact the lives of Veterans, he explains. “The broad scope of our study yielded a catalog of clinical conditions associated with genetically predicted height. In other words, these are conditions for which height might be a risk factor, or protective factor, irrespective of other environmental conditions that also could impact height and health.”

Height is not typically considered a risk factor for diseases. But past research has shown correlations between how tall someone is and their likelihood of experiencing a number of health conditions. What isn’t well understood is whether this correlation has a biological basis or is due to other factors.

How tall someone grows to be as an adult is partly due to genes inherited from their parents. But environmental factors like nutrition, socioeconomic status, and demographics (for example, age or gender) also play a part in determining eventual height. This is why determining a connection between height and disease risk can be difficult.

To explore this connection, VA researchers looked at genetic and medical data from more than 280,000 Veterans enrolled in MVP. They compared these data to a list of 3,290 genetic variants associated with height from a recent genome analysis.

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