The New York Times

January 10, 2006
Really?

The Claim: Tall People Live Longer Than Short People

THE FACTS Everyone knows that being tall has its benefits. Greater social and economic prospects are two of the more obvious ones, studies suggest. But can a taller stature also mean a longer life? The answer: It's debatable. Scientists have known for years, for example, that as the standard of living in a society improves, giving people greater access to nutrition, the average height and life span tend to go up. Widespread malnutrition and hardships, on the other hand, usually have the opposite effect.

As a result, many researchers have argued that greater height is a reflection of better health, and in turn a longer life.

One group of epidemiologists at the University of Bristol in England has published studies showing that taller people, after controlling for various factors, are less likely to die of coronary heart disease, respiratory disease and stomach cancer than shorter people.

But others say shorter is better. One researcher, Thomas T. Samaras, the author of "The Truth About Your Height," has published a number of studies suggesting that taller people age faster because they consume more calories.

In one study, published in 2003, Mr. Samaras and his co-authors argued that even the well-known tendency for women to live longer than men could be explained because men are on average 8 percent taller.

Which side is right is not known. In the end, only one relationship between size and mortality seems clear: an expanding waistline lowers life expectancy.

THE BOTTOM LINE The effect of height on life span, if any, is unclear.

scitimes@nytimes.com