Shorter people at greater risk of type 2 diabetes

New study finds being tall and thin is an advantage.

Risk of type 2 diabetes diminishes with height, study finds.

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Shorter people are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, a new European study has confirmed.

And it’s quite a significant difference: each 10 centimetres of extra height decreases the risk by 41% in men and 33% in women on average, when adjustments are made for age, potential lifestyle confounders, education and waist circumference.

The reasons, suggest the research team led by Clemens Wittenbecher and Matthias Schulze from the German Institute of Human Nutrition, may be linked to higher liver fat content and a less favourable profile of cardiometabolic risk factors – those that relate to diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

The study analysed data on 2662 people selected from participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Potsdam study that ran between 1994 and 1998. Women were aged 35 to 65 and men 40 to 65 years at the time.

There are two particularly interesting findings.

The first is that the association of height with diabetes risk appears to be stronger among people of normal weight, with an 86% lower risk per 10 centimetres of extra height in men, and 67% in women. In overweight/obese people, the figures are 36% and 30% respectively.

"This may indicate that a higher diabetes risk with larger waist circumference counteracts beneficial effects related to height, irrespective of whether larger waist circumference is due to growth or due to consuming too many calories,” the researchers say.

The second is that leg length is important, though a slight difference between genders was noted.

For men, a larger sitting height at the cost of leg length related to increased risk, while for women both leg length and sitting height contributed to risk.

The authors suggest that among boys, growth before puberty, which relates more strongly to leg length, will have a more favourable impact on later diabetes risk than growth during puberty. For girls both growth periods seem to be important.

Liver fat contributes to the higher risk among shorter individuals and, because height appears to be largely unmodifiable during adulthood, “interventions to reduce liver fat may provide alternative approaches to reduce risk associated with shorter height".

"Our study also suggests that early interventions to reduce height-related metabolic risk throughout life likely need to focus on determinants of growth in sensitive periods during pregnancy, early childhood, puberty and early adulthood, and should take potential sex-differences into account," the researchers add.

Short stature also is related to higher cardiovascular risk, which, they say, might in part be mediated by cardiometabolic risk factors relevant to type 2 diabetes; for example, blood pressure, blood fats and inflammation.

The findings are published in the journal Diabetologia.

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