If you were to Google “tall man problems,” you’d come across Rued, a 6-foot-8 guy from Copenhagen who offers a “complete list” of all the disadvantages tall men like him face. This includes not being able to fit into cars and airplanes, the impossibility of ever blending in and the world generally being too small.
While the sad plight of a Tall King is debatable at best, Rued gets one thing right on his list of 20 grievances: Men certainly seem to experience worse health outcomes the taller they get. And a massive new genetic study confirms this across more than 100 conditions and sheds light on why “tall man problems” are mostly medical diagnoses.
In the past, height has been connected to a number of cardiovascular risks. However, Veterans Affairs researchers set out to expand what we already know by doing a deeper dive into the medical and genetic data of roughly 280,000 veterans. Next, they compared this to 3,290 genetic variants associated with height obtained “from a recent European-ancestry genome-wide meta-analysis,” the study explains.
From there, they discovered that 127 different medical conditions were linked to genetic markers associated with being above 5-foot-9, the average height of men in the study, including a higher risk of atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots), peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage that can occur with or without diabetes) and thrombosis (blood clots inside of veins). “I think our findings are a first step toward disease risk assessment in that we identify conditions for which height might truly be a risk factor,” lead author Sridharan Raghavan explained in a press release.
For as many tall guy health problems as there may to be, Raghavan noted that genetic research on the link between height and certain risks is lacking. “By linking clinical data with genetic data, we can study clinical outcomes that aren’t commonly collected in other types of observational cohort data,” he said. “For example, some of the stronger associations in our study — with peripheral neuropathy, venous insufficiency, osteomyelitis, foot ulcers — wouldn’t be collected routinely in lots of other data that include genetics. This linkage is helpful for research and for translating research findings back to clinical care.”
But before Short Kings celebrate their health victory, Raghavan and his team also found that height wasn’t all bad, and surprisingly correlated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. For this at least, the human beanstalks among us can still stand tall.