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Saturday, May 10, 2014


The Honolulu Star-Advertiser yesterday had a front-page article entitled:

Researchers at the Kuakini Medical Center, University of Hawaii and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday published their study in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed biomedical journal derived from funding by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, reporting that shorter Japanese men lived longer than taller ones.  The conclusion was simple:  the taller you got, the shorter you lived!!!  They specifically were able to link this determination to the FOXO3 gene.  Appropriately enough, the average height of people living in Hawaii is the shortest in the Nation, while the longevity of the local population is the highest in the country.

For those who like to read graphs:

158 cm = 5 feet 2 inches tall
165 cm = 5 feet 5 inches tall

So is this information particularly new?  Nope.  It is easy to study height, called auxology, and tons of information can be found in the literature:
  • Each additional 4 inches of height increases the risk of all types of cancer by 13% for post-menopausal women.
  • A study of Finnish athletes showed that cross-country skiers were 6 inches shorter than their basketball players, but lived 7 years longer.
  • Swedes and Norwegians are 5 inches taller than Spaniards and Portuguese, but have twice as many cardiac deaths/100,000.
  • In Europe, the taller half of nations has 48 centenarians/million, while the shorter half shows 77 centenarians/million.

Basically, height is determined by ethnicity and nutrition, but here is one interesting comparison:

Netherlands       6 ft 0.4 in       5 ft    7 in     81.5
U.S.                   5 ft  10 in       5 ft  4.5 in    79.8
S. Korea            5 ft  8.5 in      5 ft    3 in     81.0
China                 5 ft  7.5 in      5 ft    3 in    74.2
Japan                 5 ft    7 in       5 ft    2 in     84.6
N. Korea            5 ft    5 in       5 ft   1 in     69.0

So some contradictions:

  • South Koreans are almost 3 inches taller than North Koreans, but live 12 years longer.
  • At the end of World War II, Dutch men averaged 5 ft 7 in, while American men were at 5 ft 10 in--Netherlands suffered from famine conditions then, so nutrition can make a difference--now they are almost 2.5 inches taller.  However, even though the Dutch are taller than Americans, they live longer.
  • Americans are around 2 inches taller than those living in China, but live 5.6 years longer.
Thus, nutrition trumps height as the prime determinator of life expectancy, but you got to wonder how environmental conditions also come into play, for the air pollution in China is horrendous, and their water quality is not exactly terrifically good.

How do humans compare with other mammals?  Here, some graphics related to heart beat rate:

Bigger mammals tend to have a slower heart rate.  Homo sapiens are off the chart.

Mammals with larger brains (relative to body size) sort of live longer:

But notice that bat up there and that big-brained whale only at mid-span, so...

Now to the sublime:
  • A bristlecone pine (right) lives at least 5,000 years  and grows to 60 feet.
  • Redwood trees get as high as 379 feet and can live 2,000 years.
  • Smaller trees like maple go up to only several hundred years, so trees do not seem to follow the small is longer-lived  theory.
  • Some sea urchins and clams seem to live forever, and are larger than a tiny bacterium, which can have a life expectancy of less than an hour.
So it's clear that smaller creatures do not have a higher lifespan in nature.

But returning to the crux of the matter, the most plausible reason why, all other things being equal, taller people die earlier, is that they have more cells which can mutate into cancer.  Thus, while taller people tend to have higher IQs, lifetime incomes and status in almost every society, they die off earlier.  Thus, if you are short but ate well as a child, chances are you will have a longer life.  Me?  I'm just under the average American man, but started two inches taller than Japanese men.  Today?  I lost an inch, so hopefully my life expectancy is increasing.



thomas t samaras said...

I have studied longevity and height for about 40 years and I have published in about 40 medical, nutritional, and scientific journals and books. My work has found a longevity advantage for shorter people. A number of biological mechanisms are at work to promote longevity for smaller people. These include:

1. Fewer cell replications allow a reserve of cells for use during old age.
2. Insulin and other growth factors are lower and low levels are related to greater longevity.
3. Smaller left ventricular mass of the heart is related to reduced heart failure and all-cause mortality.
4. Lower levels of C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and glucose reduce mortality.
5. Lower blood pressure.
6. Lower damage to DNA.
7. Lower free radical generation with reduced cell damage.
8. Higher sex hormone binding globulin (low levels have a variety of harmful effects.)

The above assumes similar economic status, lifestyle, and body proportions. Height is about 10% of the longevity picture. Therefore, tall people can offset their tall height by improved nutrition, lower weight and lifestyle habits. However, I found that we lose about 1.3 years per inch of increased height.

For more information on how our physiology, performance and impact on resources and the environment change with increasing body size, see www.humanbodysize.
The book, The Truth About Your Height, provides information on height as well.

thomas t samaras said...

My previous comment had an incorrect website identification. The correct site for height and body size information is:


Thanks for your complementary comments. Look forward to your future input.



Anonymous said...

Thought some of your readers might be interested in my new article which just appeared in ISpectrum magazine. It talks about the merits and demerits of shorter height.