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Height, wealth, and health: An overview with new data from three longitudinal studies

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  • Batty, G. David
  • Shipley, Martin J.
  • Gunnell, David
  • Huxley, Rachel
  • Kivimaki, Mika
  • Woodward, Mark
  • Lee, Crystal Man Ying
  • Smith, George Davey
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    Abstract

    This overview, based on a literature review and new data from the three cohorts (Whitehall Studies I and II, and the Vietnam Experience Study), has four objectives: (a) to outline the major determinants of height, so providing an indication as to what exposures this characteristic may capture; (b) to summarise, by reviewing reports from large scale studies, the relation between adult height and a range of disease outcomes - both somatic and psychiatric - with particular emphasis on coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke; (c) to discuss why these relationships may exist, in particular, the role, if any, of socioeconomic position in explaining the apparent associations; and, finally (d) to outline future research directions in this field. The large majority of evidence for predictors of height, and its health consequences, comes from observational studies. While genetic predisposition is a major determinant of height, secular rises in childhood and adult stature across successive birth cohorts suggest that early life environment also has an important impact. Plausible non-genetic determinants of height include nutrition, illness, socioeconomic status, and psychosocial stress. Evidence for an association between height and a series of health endpoints is accumulating. Thus, shorter people appear to experience increased risk of CHD, and these associations appear to be independent of socioeconomic position and other potentially confounding variables. For stroke, and its sub-types, findings are less clear. In contrast to CHD, some cancers, such as carcinoma of the colorectum, prostate, breast (in women), central nervous system, skin, endometrium, thyroid and blood (haematopoietic) are more common in taller people. While height may be negatively related to the risk of completed suicide, conclusions about the links between stature and other health endpoints is problematic given the paucity of evidence, which should be addressed. Ultimately, for want of better data, investigators in this area have used height as a proxy for a range of pre-adult exposures. In future, research should aim to explore the predictive capacity of direct measures of diet, psychosocial stress, childhood chronic illness and so on, rather than focus on height or its components. The problem is that extended follow-up of child cohorts with such data are required, and studies which hold these data are not currently available, although several are either maturing to the point where they offer sufficient clinical outcomes to facilitate analyses or are in the advanced planning stage.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics & Human Biology.

    Volume (Year): 7 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 2 (July)
    Pages: 137-152

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:7:y:2009:i:2:p:137-152

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622964

    Related research

    Keywords: Height Cardiovascular disease Cancer Suicide Coronary heart disease Stroke;

    References

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    1. John Komlos, 2007. "Anthropometric evidence on economic growth, biological well-being and regional convergence in the Habsburg Monarchy, c. 1850–1910," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 1(3), pages 211-237, October.
    2. John Komlos, . "Shrinking in a Growing Economy? The Mystery of Physical Stature during the Industrial Revolution," Articles by John Komlos 7, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
    3. Meisel, Adolfo & Vega, Margarita, 2007. "The biological standard of living (and its convergence) in Colombia, 1870-2003: A tropical success story," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 100-122, March.
    4. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
    5. Peck, Maria Nyström & Lundberg, Olle, 1995. "Short stature as an effect of economic and social conditions in childhood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 41(5), pages 733-738, September.
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    Cited by:
    1. Perkins, Jessica M. & Khan, Kashif T. & Smith, George Davey & Subramanian, S.V., 2011. "Patterns and trends of adult height in India in 2005-2006," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 184-193, March.
    2. Spijker, Jeroen J.A. & Cámara, Antonio D. & Blanes, Amand, 2012. "The health transition and biological living standards: Adult height and mortality in 20th-century Spain," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 276-288.
    3. Koch, Daniel, 2011. "Waaler revisited: The anthropometrics of mortality," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 106-117, January.
    4. Mariano Bosch & Carlos Bozzoli & Climent Quintana, 2009. "Infant mortality, income and adult stature in Spain," Working Papers 2009-27, FEDEA.
    5. Zeng, Wu & Eisenberg, Dan T.A. & Jovel, Karla Rubio & Undurraga, Eduardo A. & Nyberg, Colleen & Tanner, Susan & Reyes-García, Victoria & Leonard, William R. & Castaño, Juliana & Huanca, Tomás & McD, 2013. "Adult obesity: Panel study from native Amazonians," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 227-235.
    6. Víctor Hugo de Oliveira Sila & Climent Quintana, 2009. "Infant disease, economic conditions at birth and adult stature in Brazil," Working Papers 2009-33, FEDEA.
    7. Sorokowski, Piotr & Sorokowska, Agnieszka & Danel, Dariusz P., 2013. "Why pigs are important in Papua? Wealth, height and reproductive success among the Yali tribe of West Papua," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 382-390.
    8. McEvoy, Brian P. & Visscher, Peter M., 2009. "Genetics of human height," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 294-306, December.
    9. Outes, Ingo & Porter, Catherine, 2013. "Catching up from early nutritional deficits? Evidence from rural Ethiopia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 148-163.
    10. Mariano Bosch & Carlos Bozzoli & Climent Quintana, 2010. "The Evolution of Adult Height Across Spanish Regions 1950-1980: A New Source of Data," Working Papers 2010-01, FEDEA.
    11. Singh-Manoux, Archana & Gourmelen, Julie & Ferrie, Jane & Silventoinen, Karri & Guéguen, Alice & Stringhini, Silvia & Nabi, Hermann & Kivimaki, Mika, 2010. "Trends in the association between height and socioeconomic indicators in France, 1970-2003," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 396-404, December.
    12. Finch, Brian Karl & Beck, Audrey N., 2011. "Socio-economic status and z-score standardized height-for-age of U.S.-born children (ages 2-6)," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 272-276, July.
    13. Tucker-Seeley, Reginald D. & Subramanian, S.V., 2011. "Childhood circumstances and height among older adults in the United States," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 194-202, March.
    14. Do, D. Phuong & Watkins, Daphne C. & Hiermeyer, Martin & Finch, Brian K., 2013. "The relationship between height and neighborhood context across racial/ethnic groups: A multi-level analysis of the 1999–2004 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 30-41.

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