Short people are at a greater risk of heart attack – and there's little they can do about it because the link is genetic.
For 60 years scientists had noted a correlation between height and coronary heart disease, which kills 73,000 people a year in the UK.
It was thought that social factors that can stunt height, such as poor nutrition in childhood, might explain why petite people were more likely to develop heart problems.
But a new study has found that every 2.5 inches difference in height between two people makes the shorter person 13.5 per cent more likely to develop heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Leicester studied the DNA of people of various heights; some had suffered heart disease and some had not. They found that the same genetic variants that help determine a person’s adult height also influence the development of their cardiovascular system.
Scientists studied 180 genetic variants linked both to short height and to heart disease, using data from 200,000 people. Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, who led the study, explained: “We looked at what those genes do. Variants which make you shorter or taller also affect the structure of your blood vessels, and that’s the reason you have higher or lower risk [of heart disease].”
The study found that, compared with someone who is 5ft 6in tall, a person who is just 5ft tall has on average a 32 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease – the commonest cause of premature death worldwide.
The condition narrows the arteries that supply blood to the heart, owing to a build-up of fatty material known as plaque inside the walls of the arteries. If a blood clot forms over the plaque an artery can become completely blocked, causing a heart attack.
Professor Samani added: “[DNA] cannot be modified by one’s lifestyle or socioeconomic conditions. If shorter height is directly connected with increased risk of coronary heart disease, one would expect that [the genetic variants studied] would also be associated with coronary heart disease – and this is precisely what we found.”
The study, part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, revealed that cholesterol and fat levels only partly explained the relationship between shortness and the disease.
The charity’s associate medical director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said this was the first study to show that the risk of heart disease was at least in part due to genetics.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies