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Studies Link Height, Heart Disease Research: Shorter Men Have Greater Risk Of Heart Trouble

Is being short a liability in matters of the heart? For men - but not women - the answer emerging from doctors seems to be yes.

Two new studies from Rhode Island and Germany found the shorter men are, the greater their risk of heart trouble and high blood pressure.

None of this means heart disease is inevitable, no matter how diminutive someone is. However, especially short folks probably should make extra sure they do whatever else they can to reduce their risk.

“Short people need to look at their other risk factors, such as weight and blood pressure. The height they can’t do anything about,” said Dr. Donna Parker of Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island in Pawtucket.

Her study - a cross-section of 6,589 Rhode Islanders - looked at how everyone else compared with those who stood between 5-foot-7 and 5-foot-8.

Those under 5-foot-5 had a risk of heart disease that was double that of these moderate-size men, while men over 5-foot-10 had a risk that was 60 percent lower.

Just why this might be is unclear, but there are theories. Among them:

While genes clearly play a part in height, being short may also be a sign of poor nutrition in childhood, and this might somehow affect the heart later in life.

Small people have especially tiny blood vessels that are more prone to getting clogged with fatty buildups, the underlying cause of heart attacks.

Also unclear is why this should be so in men but not women. The Rhode Island study found no sign that short women are more prone to heart trouble.

Likewise, in the German study, which looked for links between height and blood pressure, there was only slight evidence that short women run a higher risk.

Both studies were presented Friday at a conference sponsored by the American Heart Association.

The German study, conducted at the University of Munster, was based on 5,065 men and women. It found that the shorter men are, the higher their blood pressure.

People in the Rhode Island study, which included large numbers of Portuguese-Americans, were shorter than the Germans. Yet in both studies, taller was better, at least for the heart.

Among the Germans, blood pressure went up six points for each 4 inches shorter men were. Overall, the shortest men in this study, who were under 5-foot-7, were twice as likely to have seriously elevated blood pressure as were the tallest, those over 5-foot-11.

The links between height and the heart have been the subject of considerable research in recent years. While most studies appear to have found an association, at least for men, there have been some notable exceptions.

For instance, the long-running Framingham Heart Study saw no evidence that stature has anything to do with cardiovascular health. The Framingham study follows the health of people in one suburban Boston town that is only an hour or so drive from Rhode Island.

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