Research has shown time and again that being tall offers rewards way beyond the satisfaction of dunking a basketball or reaching the highest shelf in the cupboard. You may have read the study, for example, that found that tall people (especially men) earn more money, get more respect, and amass higher status than short people. Or that voters prefer taller presidents over shorter ones; the bigger candidate won 58% of the time between 1789 and 2008. Then there are the pop-cultural references, perhaps best embodied by singer-songwriter Randy Newman's perennially popular 1977 hit song "Short People," with its stinging opening line: "Short people got no reason to live."
Well, society can laugh its big head all it wants at short men, because when it comes to mortality and height, diminutive dudes are living longer than their cocky, taller counterparts.
Led by researchers at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, the study analyzed data from two long-term health studies of more than 8,000 Hawaiian men of Japanese ancestry, born between 1900 and 1919. After splitting the study sample into two groups—men 5'2" and shorter, and 5'4" and taller—results showed that "The taller you got, the shorter you lived," lead researcher Dr. Bradley Willcox said in a press release.
Now, before anyone thinks Willcox and his colleagues are just some height-challenged activists, the objective of this study wasn't to scare tall people. Willcox, whose specialty is geriatrics, has been studying a gene called FOXO3. His previous research has shown an association between a variant of FOXO3 and increased longevity in humans.
The current study sought to assess the relationship between height, the longevity-promoting FOXO3 gene variant, and age at death. The new finding—that the shorter a man was the more likely he was to have the longevity-promoting variant of FOXO—brought with it other benefits like insulin regulation, tumor suppression, and DNA repair. "This study shows, for the first time, that body size is linked to this gene," Willcox summed up.
Previous studies had found that the FOXO3 variant was prevalent among Italian and German centenarians. But neither study of these populations looked at height. So it's still possible that height is only a factor among the Japanese-Americans evaluated in the Hawaii study, something the study authors acknowledged.
But there's another factor that might give one pause: Men under 5'2" lived longest, but how many men do you know under 5'2"? Jesus, even Elijah Wood is a towering 5'6"!