I want a long life!!!
December 23, 2012 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Do tall people die sooner?

Hey everyone. I am six foot six tall and I am worried because what I have been reading says that shorter people have longer lifespans. Is this true? This is greatly unsettling me and quite demoralizing. I want to live a long life. Can any of you tell me what you know on this matter? Thanks!

posted by Thanquol180 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by John Cohen at 9:58 PM on December 23, 2012

Do you smoke? Do you binge drink? Do you exercise?

Because, yeah, height has a bit of an effect on your expected lifespan. But it's pretty low down on the list. The three I've mentioned each have a much, much larger effect.

Basically, if you don't smoke, don't drink excessively, and exercise at least a little, then you shouldn't worry about your height, because your healthy lifestyle will easily balance out the little extra bit of risk that your height gives you. And on the other hand, if you do smoke or drink excessively, or you don't exercise, then again you shouldn't worry about your height — because you should worry about that other shit first.
posted by and so but then, we at 10:01 PM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's another article (abstract with link to PDF).

Anyway, if you're an adult, you can't change your height, so it isn't worth worrying about.
posted by John Cohen at 10:13 PM on December 23, 2012

Yes. But it's not as significant a factor as being of the right weight. You will doubtless outlive many shorter people. Many taller people will doubtless outlive you. This is how statistics works.


The paper itself notes that:

Of course, height and weight are only two of the factors that play a role in determining longevity. Other factors include low weight-for-height, good nutrition, genetic factors, stress management, wholesome life-style, regular exercise, higher socioeconomic status, good social and marital relationships, and good quality medical care.

So you leverage your height to achieve these goals. Height is related to perceptions of leadership(not a free paper, but the abstract tells you everything you need to know). Height is related to perceptions of attractiveness (not the best paper, but the best free paper I could find).

Let's talk about the demoralization.

There's a psychological school which would say that you derive this unhappiness from comparing yourself to the lifespans of other people. (see this) This is quite silly: you will only get the one consciousness. You will only spend your life in that one consciousness. You will not leave it to go join another one: you do not have a choice. Therefore, although you might count the measure of your years abstractly against another person, you cannot compare the length of your conscious experience, which is what matters.

Your lifespan is uncounted eons compared to the lifespan of E. Coli, which ranges from minutes to about a day. Your lifespan is a brief spark in the nothingness compared to the years of even a young star. The comparison seems silly. Why does it not seem silly when you compare it to other people? Although you have more in common with other people, you cannot become another person. It is just as impossible as becoming a star, or a bacterium. You can take on characteristics which will help you if you wish to change the statistical distribution which your lifespan will be drawn from. You can stop smoking, if you're smoking, stop drinking if you're drinking. But you cannot become another person to do so.

Imagine a choice: choose between two lives, two continuums of consciousness. In one, you live out a thousand years thinking exactly one thought: the shortness of your life, compared to even the smallest of the hills. In the other, you live out one day, filled with intensity, where you are present at every moment. Which would you choose?

Imagine another choice: another choice between two lives. In one, you live a million years, but you are bereft of consciousness. In the other, you live one day, again filled with intensity where you are present at every moment. Which would you choose?

Maybe watch Groundhog Day, read some Sartre or, more pointedly, The Myth of Sisyphus, by Camus.
posted by curuinor at 10:24 PM on December 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

I thought the question was about the effect of height on longevity, not the effect of other things on longevity, or the effect of height on other things. If the question is whether there's any good about being taller, sure: it's correlated with higher earnings. And this is a counterexample to the preconception that appearance matters more for women: tallness (for your gender) is especially advantageous for men. A man who's 6 feet tall will earn about $166,000 more in a 30-year career than a man who's 5'5", controlling for age. Being wealthier can also help you live longer. In fact, any study that doesn't control for income is probably understating the extent to which height is inversely correlated with longevity.
posted by John Cohen at 10:35 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

All three sources used in the first article that John Cohen links to and his second PubMed link are written by the same guy, who also appears as a source in the original article the OP was reading and as a co-author in curuinor's PubMed link. If you look him up, you find out that he isn't an academic or researcher or anything, but has a web site where he promotes his speaking engagements and various secrets-to-living-healthy-type popular press books he has written.

The punchline is in the "About Us" page:
In the 1970s, Samaras, a configuration management systems engineer, applied the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the aging process. This well-established theory indicates that systems deteriorate faster with increasing body mass and energy intake.
So not only does have no medical credentials at all - During nights and weekends while earning a master's degree in an engineering discipline he studied human height and its relation to longevity and physical performance based on the laws of physics - he was basically an engineering nerd who realized that it would be easier to come up with and promote a tin foil hat theory like this one instead of the usual ones about perpetual motion or cold fusion.

The writer of the article in John Cohen's first link at least had some crumb of journalistic integrity and opened with
In the past, some studies hypothesized that tallness correlates to longevity; partly as a result, society began to value height and even look down on shortness. More recent research, however...
but now on to the exciting, cutting-edge work that Samaras is doing! Which he totally is not paying us to cover and dictating what we say about it, no siree, it just so happens that all three of the objectively best articles on this topic were written by him!

I also found it interesting that the link for the first source in that article goes to a page hosted on www.shortsupport.org; maybe his primary pitch is to short people and the tall people freaked out by this quacky thermodynamic/aging scheme are just windfalls.
posted by XMLicious at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

The people of the Netherlands (ranked tallest in the world) are 2 inches taller than Americans on average and their life expectancy ranks 17th in the world versus the US's rank of 37th. There are more factors at play than just your height when it comes to longevity. Focus on what you can control to extend your life - healthy foods, exercise, medical monitoring of your health - and try not to worry about what you can't control. Signed, a 6 foot tall woman.
posted by cecic at 11:20 PM on December 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree that Samaras is biased and not well-qualified, though the insinuation that anyone who cites him has been bribed by him is just an insinuation, nothing more. An objective metastudy on all studies that have looked at this question would be more helpful.
posted by John Cohen at 11:22 PM on December 23, 2012

It may be that there is a positive correlation between above average height and shorter life expectancy but correlations refer to populations, not individuals. So knowing that there is a correlation between above average height and mortality tells you nothing about your personal circumstance.

In any event, 6'6" is not so extreme a height. It's not like you're Margo Dydek, a 7'2" woman who dies in her early thirties.
posted by dfriedman at 11:24 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

L. H. Storms, the coauthor on the paper, is a psychiatrist with the Veteran's Administration. The papers demand a closer look, certainly.

It's hard to finagle out causation proper in something like this, because you would have to cause some people to grow taller than others, and that just ain't ethical.

Things about the paper I cited which I note:

1. It's only veterans.
2. They only take males, because there's few females in their population. Because it's only veterans. It's also 93% white people.
3. "Nursing practice at the VA Medical Center is to weight each patient on admission. However, each individual was asked to state his height, and only if he did not know or seemed uncertain was it then measured.
4. They did, however, get a big honking significance with a t-test on age of death on shorter vs. taller men.

That's the study itself. But they compare with other studies by Duane D. Miller for both men and women, and for different ethnic groups. He also cites a bunch of stuff with sportsmen.

According to their own paper, the earliest surveys by insurance companies showed that tall men had excessive mortality rates. A 1979 study says that tall men lived longer, and a longitudinal study found the same, but the National Center for Health Statistics reports no relationship between the two. The dude spends a lot of time in the discussion section talking about this. Apparently, part of the rationale for choosing the VA hospital was that most people at VA hospitals are "not well-off financially". That's his main argument against the insurance company and longitudinal studies: if all else is held equal, he says, the tall man dies first. He also has a theoretical basis for this. But all else is not equal, tall people get richer and live longer that way.

What Samaras mainly seems to publish is reviews in low-impact peer-reviewed publications. But they are peer-reviewed, and he often publishes with more credentialled coauthors, in slightly more related fields. Harold Elrick, who's an internist, as well as Storms.

So you may start with those people, if you also want to investigate this further.
posted by curuinor at 11:29 PM on December 23, 2012

John, your note about bribes reminded me that I'd wanted to suggest that the OP read up about content farms, which he might encounter in reading about this and other health topics, if he hasn't already.
posted by XMLicious at 11:30 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

curuinor, you make good points and I agree that the work of his co-authors would be good places to start. It's just important to note that in Samaras' case it's not like an academic researcher's situation where this just happens to be one of many topics he's studied and will be moving on from soon; he's a one-trick pony who has been grinding this axe for quite some time and built his business around it. In one paper he introduces himself with this sentence:
Over the last 36 years, the author has questioned the health and environment benefits tied to increased height and associated body weight.
So he may have had his fingers even in apparently-serious work done decades ago.
posted by XMLicious at 11:40 PM on December 23, 2012

On average, babies will live longer than you will. Are you also worried because you are not a baby?

This is why risk factors are divided into two categories: modifiable and non-modifiable.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 1:40 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hello from 6 foot 3 inch 44yo Englishman. Apparently we do, though the evidence is not conclusive. Looked this up a few years ago when work at the time provided free access to medical research databases.

Kind of a downer, but not for long as:

1. As other people said, exercise, weight, keeping healthy are much bigger factors.

2. "Everyone dies. Not everyone lives." Spending part of your life worrying about when you will die is, well, a waste of life-time...

Go out and enjoy life. Train and run a half-marathon. Find and retain interesting, positive friends. Hang out with them, and positive relatives. Get into a good relationship and have frequent great sex. Travel (which does broaden the mind) and see different places. Add to the sum of human knowledge in some way. Complete satisfying things in your spare time.

Do all of those things in the time you would otherwise spend wondering, or worrying, about when you will die.
posted by Wordshore at 4:09 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdata: I have a tall family, and we all tend to live into our nineties. Basically we are too damn stubborn to die.
posted by windykites at 6:06 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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