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Leg length, insulin resistance, and coronary heart disease risk: The Caerphilly Study


BACKGROUND Adult height has been inversely associated with coronary heart disease risk in several studies. The mechanism for this association is not well understood, however, and this was investigated by examining components of stature, cardiovascular disease risk factors and subsequent coronary heart disease in a prospective study.

METHODS All men aged 45–59 years living in the town of Caerphilly, South Wales were approached, and 2512 (89%) responded and underwent a detailed examination, which included measurement of height and sitting height (from which an estimate of leg length was derived). Participants were followed up through repeat examinations and the cumulative incidence of coronary heart disease—both fatal and non-fatal—over a 15 year follow up period is the end point in this report.

RESULTS Cross sectional associations between cardiovascular risk factors and components of stature (total height, leg length and trunk length) demonstrated that factors related to the insulin resistance syndrome—the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance, fasting triglyceride levels and total to HDL cholesterol ratio—were less favourable in men with shorter legs, while showing reverse or no associations with trunk length. Fibrinogen levels were inversely associated with leg length and showed a weaker association with trunk length. Forced expiratory volume in one second was unrelated to leg length but strongly positively associated to trunk length. Other risk factors showed little association with components of stature. The risk of coronary heart disease was inversely related to leg length but showed little association with trunk length.

CONCLUSION Leg length is the component of stature related to insulin resistance and coronary heart disease risk. As leg length is unrelated to lung function measures it is unlikely that these can explain the association in this cohort. Factors that influence leg length in adulthood—including nutrition, other influences on growth in early life, genetic and epigenetic influences—merit further investigation in this regard. The reported associations suggest that pre-adult influences are important in the aetiology of coronary heart disease and insulin resistance.

  • leg length
  • coronary heart disease

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  • Funding: the Caerphilly study was supported by the Medical Research Council but these analyses were unfunded.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.