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Height and risk of death among men and women: aetiological implications of associations with cardiorespiratory disease and cancer mortality


OBJECTIVES Height is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease mortality risk and has shown variable associations with cancer incidence and mortality. The interpretation of findings from previous studies has been constrained by data limitations. Associations between height and specific causes of death were investigated in a large general population cohort of men and women from the West of Scotland.

DESIGN Prospective observational study.

SETTING Renfrew and Paisley, in the West of Scotland.

SUBJECTS 7052 men and 8354 women aged 45–64 were recruited into a study in Renfrew and Paisley, in the West of Scotland, between 1972 and 1976. Detailed assessments of cardiovascular disease risk factors, morbidity and socioeconomic circumstances were made at baseline.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Deaths during 20 years of follow up classified into specific causes.

RESULTS Over the follow up period 3347 men and 2638 women died. Height is inversely associated with all cause, coronary heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease mortality among men and women. Adjustment for socioeconomic position and cardiovascular risk factors had little influence on these associations. Height is strongly associated with forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and adjustment for FEV1 considerably attenuated the association between height and cardiorespiratory mortality. Smoking related cancer mortality is not associated with height. The risk of deaths from cancer unrelated to smoking tended to increase with height, particularly for haematopoietic, colorectal and prostate cancers. Stomach cancer mortality was inversely associated with height. Adjustment for socioeconomic position had little influence on these associations.

CONCLUSION Height serves partly as an indicator of socioeconomic circumstances and nutritional status in childhood and this may underlie the inverse associations between height and adulthood cardiorespiratory mortality. Much of the association between height and cardiorespiratory mortality was accounted for by lung function, which is also partly determined by exposures acting in childhood. The inverse association between height and stomach cancer mortality probably reflectsHelicobacter pylori infection in childhood resulting in—or being associated with—shorter height. The positive associations between height and several cancers unrelated to smoking could reflect the influence of calorie intake during childhood on the risk of these cancers.

  • height
  • cancer
  • cardiorespiratory disease

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