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The association of childhood height, leg length and other measures of skeletal growth with adult cardiovascular disease: the Boyd–Orr cohort
  1. E Whitley1,
  2. R M Martin1,
  3. G Davey Smith1,
  4. J M P Holly2,
  5. D Gunnell1
  1. 1Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, Bristol, Avon, UK
  2. 2Department of Clinical Sciences at North Bristol, Medical School Unit, Southmead Hospital, Bristol, Avon, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elise Whitley, Department of Social Medicine, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK; elise.whitley{at}


Background Taller adults have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and there is some evidence that pre-adolescent exposures, indexed by leg length, underlie this association. Associations with other aspects of skeletal size in childhood have not previously been investigated.

Methods We have examined associations of cardiovascular mortality and morbidity with childhood height, shoulder breadth, leg, trunk and foot length using a cohort of children whose families participated in a 1937–9 survey of diet and health followed up for 59 years.

Results Altogether 2642 traced participants had at least one anthropometric measurement; a subsample (n=1043), completed the Rose angina questionnaire and provided information about doctor-diagnosed ischaemic heart disease (IHD) in 1997–8. Childhood stature was weakly inversely associated with cardiovascular mortality, and leg length was the component with the strongest associations. There was evidence from secondary analyses that childhood anthropometric measurements were inversely related to early (age <65 years) rather than late cardiovascular mortality. Childhood stature was inversely associated with self-reported IHD and associations with leg length were strongest. Associations were somewhat attenuated in models including terms for having been breastfed and socioeconomic position.

Conclusion Pre-adult exposures are more strongly associated with cardiovascular morbidity than mortality, and they affect premature cardiovascular mortality more than later mortality.

  • Cohort
  • coronary heart disease
  • early life origins
  • epidemiology
  • height
  • morbidity
  • mortality SI
  • socioeconomic

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  • Funding The World Cancer Research Fund supported the follow-up of the Boyd–Orr cohort and the current analyses.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.