Aurora / Tübingen (dpa) – Big or small: A person’s body size increases the risk of certain diseases. This was reported by American researchers in the journal “Plus Genetics”.
Not only genes play a role, but also socio-economic factors and above all the environment, a German expert emphasizes.
People are getting taller: in 1896, the average height of German men was 1.67 meters; And in 2017, it was about 1.80 meters. For women, the value rose from 1.56 to 1.66 meters in the same period – a development that can be seen almost all over the world.
Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a relationship between body size and certain diseases. A German study in 2019 showed that short people had an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while a Swedish analysis in 2017 showed an increased risk of blood clots in tall people. According to meta-analyses, they also get cancer fairly frequently.
However, it is unclear whether body size itself represents the actual risk or whether there are factors influencing it. A team led by Dr. Sridharan Raghavan of the University of Colorado has now investigated the links between different diseases and a person’s actual height and expected height based on genetic factors.
Atrial fibrillation and varicose veins
Using a database containing genetic and health information, the team analyzed information from more than 250,000 adults for more than 1,000 diseases and traits. On the other hand, the evaluation confirms that tall people have a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation and varicose veins and a lower risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
The study also found new links: According to this, tall people have an increased risk of developing peripheral neuropathy, which is caused by nerve damage in the extremities, and skin and bone infections such as leg and foot ulcers. Overall, there is evidence that adult height can influence more than a hundred clinical characteristics, Raghavan said in a statement. Among them are many diseases associated with reduced life expectancy and reduced quality of life. However, further studies should confirm that height is a risk factor for many diseases common in adults.
For Norbert Stefan, professor of experimental clinical diabetes medicine at the University Hospital Tübingen, the result is not surprising: it has been known for years that many genes determine a person’s height or shortness. However, it is these genes that are associated not only with body size, but also with other processes in the body, and therefore they are directly or indirectly associated with certain disease risks.
Consider social and economic factors
“However, genetics should not be overestimated,” the doctor emphasizes, social and economic factors can also play a role: according to studies, tall people often have a higher social status. This goes hand in hand with the fact that they are less affected by some common ailments.
Environmental factors may have an even greater impact, says Stefan, referring to China, where body size has been increasing for years: “One of the reasons for that is that people there are consuming more and more milk and whey products that have the IGF-1 and IGF-2 genes active. And that’s already in the womb.” These genes will drive the body’s growth and, once activated, will remain active throughout life. IGF-1 promotes cell growth, which explains the increased risk of certain types of cancer in tall people.
However, stronger IGF-1 activation also ensures better organ fat burning. Therefore, fatty liver is less common in tall people, says Stefan, referring to his own studies. At the same time, since they have more leverage due to their longer limbs and therefore burn more energy with each movement, the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks is lower.
Long trips and long trips by car
However, long limbs also mean long veins in the leg – blood must be pumped a longer distance to the heart, which increases the risk of developing a blood clot. Accordingly, tall people should exercise regularly on long trips or long car trips, drink enough alcohol, and wear supportive stockings on the plane.
On the other hand, the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attack is greater in young people – regardless of their body fat mass: “If these people gain weight, their risk is significantly higher than in tall people who are getting fatter,” confirms a doctor Sugar: “The younger you are, the leaner you should be.”
Body size is a topic that is underestimated in daily clinical practice and deserves more attention, says Stefan, “which is why work such as the current study is important.” Although some of these publications already exist, a medical conclusion is rarely drawn from body size in practice: “But as people get older and older, this is a problem, because these links will continue to gain importance.”
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220605-99-552554 / 3