Study: Height May Be Unrecognized Risk Factor for Several Common Conditions in Adults

by johnsmith

An international team of researchers has found genetic evidence supporting associations between height and 127 clinical traits.

Raghavan et al. conclude that height may be an underrecognized non-modifiable risk factor for a wide variety of common clinical conditions that may have implications for risk stratification and disease surveillance. Image credit: Popular Science Monthly, D. Appleton and Company, 1887.

Height has been a factor associated with multiple common conditions, for example with increased risk of atrial fibrillation and with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

But scientists have struggled to determine whether being tall or short is what puts them at risk, or if factors that affect height, like nutrition and socioeconomic status, are actually to blame.

In a new study, Dr. Sridharan Raghavan from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center and colleagues set out to remove these confounding factors by looking separately at connections between various diseases and a person’s actual height, and connections to their predicted height based on their genetics.

They analyzed data from the VA Million Veteran Program, which included genetic and health information from 235,398 Hispanic White and 63,898 non-Hispanic Black adults.

Their results confirmed previous findings that being tall is linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation and varicose veins, and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

They also uncovered new associations between greater height and a higher risk of peripheral neuropathy, which is caused by damage to nerves on the extremities, as well as skin and bone infections, such as leg and foot ulcers.

The researchers looked at more than 1,000 conditions and traits overall, making it the largest study of height and disease to date.

They conclude that height may be a previously unrecognized risk factor for several common conditions in adults.

“Using genetic methods applied to the VA Million Veteran Program, we found evidence that adult height may impact at least 127 clinical traits, including several conditions associated with poor outcomes and quality of life — peripheral neuropathy, lower extremity ulcers, and chronic venous insufficiency,” Dr. Raghavan said.

“We conclude that height may be an unrecognized non-modifiable risk factor for several common conditions in adults.”

The findings appear in the journal PLoS Genetics.


S. Raghavan et al. 2022. A multi-population phenome-wide association study of genetically-predicted height in the Million Veteran Program. PLoS Genet 18 (6): e1010193; doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010193

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