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Study Finds Causal Relationship Between Height and Heart Disease Due to Lung Function

Age, family history, race and pregnancy are already known, independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease that are out of patient control. A new study sheds light on another one: Height.

What Did The Study Find?

In the study, researchers used Mendelian randomization analyses of 828 single-nucleotide polymorphisms, often called SNPs, known to be associated with adult height. They examined individual data from the U.K. Biobank, a prospective cohort study with genetic, physical and health data collected from approximately 500,000 people in the U.K. between 2006 and 2010.

Their mission: To test whether height is causally related to cardiometabolic diseases, specifically coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found there was strong evidence to prove a causal relationship between adult height and coronary artery disease. They determined that for every 2.5 inches above average height someone is, the risk of coronary artery disease decreases 16 percent. They did not find evidence of a causal relationship between height and type 2 diabetes.

Average height for women in the U.S. is approximately 5 feet 4 inches; average height for men is 5 feet 9 inches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarly, in the U.K., the average height for women is 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 10 inches for men.

Why are shorter people at an increased risk for heart disease? The researchers attributed the relationship to lung function, measured by forced expiratory volume and vital capacity. They determined that poor lung function in shorter people mediates the effect of height on coronary artery disease.

What Can Healthcare Providers Do?

“Our results suggest that we need to assess lung function alongside someone’s height to have a better handle in predicting their risk in developing heart disease,” the researchers said in a statement.

They recommend that HCPs encourage patients, especially those below average height, to exercise regularly and avoid smoking. A sedentary lifestyle and smoking are both controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease that affect lung function.

Be sure to talk about the heart-health benefits of being active, which makes patients more inclined to take action, research shows. In order for exercise to improve lung function, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of it per week.


Agarwal S. Cardiovascular Benefits of Exercise. International Journal of General Medicine. 2012; 5: 541-545.

Average female height in the U.K., OnAverage,

Average male height in the U.K., OnAverage,

Body Measurements. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Join the Movement to Be Healthy for Good. American Heart Association, E, Del Greco F, Astley C, et al. Mendelian randomization analyses find pulmonary factors mediate the effect of height on coronary artery disease. Communications Biology. 2019; 2: 119.

Last updated on 10/1/19.

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