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Diabetes and other health risks of being short

Diabetes and other health risks of being short
It was seen that the risk of future type 2 diabetes went down by 41 per cent for men and 33 per cent for women for each 10cm additional height. © Shutterstock

Your height may determine your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says a new study. Many other researches have also pointed out various health risks associated with a short stature. Read on to know more.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Published : September 11, 2019 4:47 PM IST

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that affects the body's ability to processes blood glucose. The food you eat changes to glucose and your body uses this as energy. The pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which helps in the absorption of glucose by your cells. If you have diabetes, it means your pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin and there is excess glucose in your blood.

According to WHO, around 422 million people around the world have diabetes. The maximum number of cases are in low- and middle-income countries. Now a new research from the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Germany, says that people with a short height may be at a greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes. The journal Diabetologia published the study, which says that being tall is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, with each 10cm difference in height associated with a 41 per cent decreased risk of diabetes in men and a 33 per cent decreased risk in women.


Researchers say that the increased risk in shorter individuals may be due to higher liver fat content. An undesirable profile of cardio-metabolic risk factors may also contribute to this. They looked at 2,662 middle-aged men and women. The participants were from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Potsdam, a study of 27,548 participants. They looked into the overall health of all participants. They also looked at age, body weight, sitting height, waist circumference and blood pressure.

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It was seen that the risk of future type 2 diabetes went down by 41 per cent for men and 33 per cent for women for each 10cm additional height, when adjusted for age, potential lifestyle confounders, education and waist circumference. The association of height with diabetes risk was stronger among normal-weight individuals.

There was an 86 per cent lower risk per 10cm more height in men, and 67 per cent lower risk per 10cm more height in women with normal weight. In obese individuals, this risk was 36 per cent lower for men and 30 per cent lower for women for each additional 10 cm. They also found a larger leg length had a lower risk of diabetes.


Researchers believe that this may indicate that a higher diabetes risk with larger waist circumference counteracts beneficial effects related to height. They stress on the need for early interventions to reduce height-related metabolic risk throughout life. This can be done by focussing on sensitive periods during pregnancy, early childhood, puberty and early adulthood, they say.

They also noticed a slight sex difference for men: A larger sitting height at the cost of leg length related to increased risk. In women, both leg length and sitting height contributed to lower risk. Among boys, growth before puberty, which relates more strongly to leg length, will have a more favourable impact on later diabetes risk than growth during puberty. But for girls, both growth periods seem to be important.


The authors also calculated to what extent the inverse associations of height and height components with Type 2 diabetes risk are explainable by liver fat and other cardiometabolic risk factors. When the results were adjusted for liver fat content, men's reduced risk of diabetes per 10cm larger height was 34 per cent as compared to 40 per cent in the overall results. For women, the reduced risk was just 13 per cent compared to 33 per cent in the overall results.


This study suggests that early interventions reduce height-related metabolic risk throughout life. There is a need to focus on determinants of growth in sensitive periods during pregnancy, early childhood, puberty, and early adulthood.

As for the inverse association between height and risk of Type 2 diabetes among men and women, which was largely related to leg length among men, the authors conclude part of this inverse association may be driven by the associations of greater height with lower liver fat content and a more favourable profile of cardiometabolic risk factors, specifically blood fats, adiponectin, and C-reactive protein.


Height matters when it comes to your health. Countless studies have focussed on this and found that being short can be harmful for health. But some studies have also found that a short stature can also have some benefits. Let us take a look at some of the health risks of being short.

Short height may increase your risk of lung disease

A study at Queen Mary University of London says that shorter people may have problems with their lungs. And, this in turn increases their risk of heart diseases and diabetes. This study says that individuals of shorter statute should go for regular exercise and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. They must also give up smoking and eat a healthy diet to offset this risk. Communications Biology published this study.

You may be prone to coronary heart disease

Researchers from the University of Leicester say that the shorter you are the higher will be your risk of coronary heart disease. They say that every 2.5 inches change in your height affects your risk of coronary heart disease by 13.5 per cent. For example, compared to a 5ft 6inch tall person, a 5 ft tall person on average has a 32 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease because of their relatively shorter stature. Though this study does not have any clinical application, researchers are hopeful that it may open up new ways for prevention and treatment of this disease.

Pregnant women may face risk of pre-term birth

If you are short, you may also have a shorter pregnancy, a smaller baby and higher risk for a pre-term birth. Researchers at the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center Ohio Collaborative say that maternal height, which is determined by genetic factors, helped shape the foetal environment, influencing the length of pregnancy and frequency of prematurity. In contrast, transmitted genes influence birth length and birth weight. This is significant because pre-term births can cause lifelong problems in the new-born including breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. But researchers also conceded that nutrition and environmental factors may also play a role in pre-term birth.

You may be more likely to go bald

Short men may have an increased risk of becoming bald prematurely. An international genetic study under the leadership of the University of Bonn points in this direction. Researchers investigated the genetic material of more than 20,000 men. Their data show that premature hair loss has a link to various physical characteristics and illnesses. Nature Communications published this study.

Short height increases your risk of osteoarthritis

A study at University of Michigan confirms a connection between a short height and an increased risk of osteoarthritis. Researchers say that this could be due to shorter bones and less cartilage. This may render the joints more susceptible to damage. A variety of factors, including genetics, diet and prenatal environment determine how tall someone grows. Researchers think that genetic factors are responsible for at least 80 per cent of the variation in height among people. The journal Nature Genetics published this study online.

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