Does Height Change Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease or Cancer?

Does Height Change Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease or Cancer?

Being really tall comes with its advantages: Research shows tall men are likely to be more educated and make more money than their shorter counterparts. They also marry more, stastically to older, well-educated women.

But how does your height affect your risk of death due to the top 2 leading causes: heart disease and cancer?

Understanding how height influences health has become important, because the average adult height has grown over time. And while BMI and waist circumference are traditionally used to predict mortality, research on how height affects your cause of death has not been a focus until recently.

The Good News: Tall Men Have Healthier Hearts

According to a review in the journal, The Lancet: Diabetes & Endocrinology, when it comes to heart disease, tall guys win: Every additional 2.5 inches in height cuts your risk of dying of heart disease by about 6 percent.

Why? Tall men tend to have stronger lungs and larger blood vessels – 2 factors that reduce the risk of plaque buildup that causes heart disease and stroke. There may also be a link to the nourishment children receive during pregnancy and throughout development. Children who are well-nourished grow earlier and faster. A related hormonal shift enables their bodies to better control blood sugar, reducing risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart problems.

These indicators are supported by another study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, which found that height was negatively associated with death from coronary disease, stroke subtypes, and heart failure. Additionally, height may reduce the risk of death from stomach and oral cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mental disorders, liver disease, and external causes. 

The Downside: You May Be at Higher Risk for Cancer

That extra 2.5 inches of height also affects your cancer risk – increasing it by 4%, according to the same review in The Lancet.

Tape Measure

This may be due to the fact that something has to kill you, and if you don’t die of heart disease, you’re more likely to die of cancer. Additionally, as a tall man, you have more cells that likely divide quickly due to the same hormone shifts you probably experienced during your childhood growth spurts. More cells dividing fast leads to a higher risk of cancer mutation.

The correlation of height to cancer is also supported by the second study, which found height was positively associated with death from melanoma and cancers of the pancreas, endocrine and nervous systems, ovary, breast, prostate, colorectum, blood, and lung. Death from ruptured aortic aneurysm and pulmonary embolism are also more likely as height increases.

A Men’s Health article on the topic states the obvious: “You can’t change your height, so what can you do?” Experts give the usual advice: Keep your BMI and waist circumference in check, maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and drink alcohol in moderation.

Time to hit the gym.