Afraid of Heights?

Men born before 1939 with a body height of 5’9” can expect a 10% lower dementia risk compared to men with a body height of 5’7”

Researchers at the Center for Clinical Research and Prevention in Copenhagen, Denmark recently conducted research on the correlation between body height in young men and their risk of dementia later in life. Why is this important you ask? This seemingly insignificant pairing actually provides scientists with valuable information. Acknowledging the correlation between two completely different traits can help explain the biological mysteries associated with the human body. Traits might not be as completely unrelated as they seem.

Three different study populations were used: men, brothers, and twins. The total study population was 666,333. The population size was large to ensure more accurate results. The researchers decided to compare data amongst these three different populations of men in order to determine if genetics played a role in any possible correlation, or lack thereof. The span of this study was particularly long in part because the researchers had to evaluate the men to determine if they possessed dementia later in their life. Men were first evaluated when they were around 22 years old. Each man’s height was recorded. The researchers revaluated the men, on average, 41 years later. The researchers identified the men with a dementia diagnosis or early signs of dementia.

Many years passed before the researchers could collect and compile their data. What they found was definitely worth the wait. One of the most prominent results was that men born before 1939 with a body height of 5’9” can expect a 10% lower dementia risk compared to men with a body height of 5’7”. We normally don’t think of a two-inch height difference mattering when it comes to overall health, however, it does when it comes to dementia risk. In regard to the analysis of brothers and twins, the findings supported that the relationship between body height and dementia is not explained by shared genetics. Brothers and twins had varying outcomes depending on their height, which suggests that genetics does not play a crucial role.

I am sure you are wondering to yourself, “How reliable are these results?” I cannot speak for the researchers, however, the methods used allowed for the most accurate results possible. The data is based on a large, unselected population. The large size and randomness in participants lessen the probability of the correlation resulting from random chance.

This study may sound ridiculous to you, but I urge you to consider the possibility of this correlation actually existing. Dementia is a disease that many individuals suffer from. If the scientific community can determine the factors contributing to the development of dementia, then medical professionals can better understand the disease. You never know… this study may just be one step forward in solving a biological mystery.

Jorgensen, R.S., Okholm, G.T., Christensen, K., Sorensen, T.I., & Osler, M. 2020. Body height in young adult men and risk of dementia later in adult life. eLIFE.

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  1. What an interesting article! As you say, height and dementia seem unrelated at first. I’d like to see what future studies come out of this. The sample size is very impressive. I studied abroad in Denmark and learned they have a national health database (and national healthcare system), which makes large studies relatively accessible. I wonder if this is the case here!

  2. Lauren Kageler

    Definitely seems like an odd pairing at first, but any step forward in learning more about the underpinnings of dementia will be valuable.

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