Bradley Willcox

Bradley Willcox in the laboratory (photo courtesy of Kuakini Health System)

Short height and long life have a direct connection in Japanese men, according to new research based on the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program and the Kuakini Honolulu-Asia Aging Study.

“We split people into two groups—those who were 5 foot 2 inches and shorter, and 5 foot 4 inches and taller,” said Bradley Willcox, one of the investigators for the study and a UH Mānoa professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Department of Geriatric Medicine. “The folks that were 5 foot 2 inches and shorter lived the longest. The range was seen all the way across from being 5 foot tall to 6 foot tall. The taller you got, the shorter you lived.”

Researchers at the Kuakini Medical Center, JABSOM and U.S. Veterans Affairs worked on the study. “Shorter Men Live Longer: Association of Height with Longevity and FOXO3 Genotype in American Men of Japanese Ancestry” was recently published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The researchers showed that shorter men were more likely to have a protective form of the longevity gene, FOXO3, leading to smaller body size during early development and a longer lifespan. Shorter men were also more likely to have lower blood insulin levels and less cancer.

“This study shows, for the first time, that body size is linked to this gene,” said Willcox. “We knew that in animal models of aging. We did not know that in humans. We have the same or a slightly different version in mice, roundworms, flies, even yeast has a version of this gene, and it’s important in longevity across all these species.”

Willcox noted that there is no specific height or age range that should be targeted as a cut-off in the study, in part because “no matter how tall you are, you can still live a healthy lifestyle” to offset having a typical FOXO3 genotype rather than the longevity-enhancing form of the FOXO3 gene.

The Kuakini HHP started in 1965 with 8,006 American men of Japanese ancestry born between the years 1900 and 1919. The lifestyles and health conditions of these men were closely followed and studied by the researchers through the years.

“One of the reasons why Honolulu is perfect for this kind of study is that we have the longest-lived state in the country, combined with a population that has remained, for the most part, in Hawaiʻi,” Willcox said. “This has helped us maintain one of the longest-running, largest studies of aging men in the world, in the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program.”

Read the full story on the John A. Burns School of Medicine website.

Link to journal article:

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Dog breeds also follow this pattern with the larger dog breeds having much shorter lifespans and higher incidence of cancers.

  2. The larger the dog breed, the shorter the lifespan, also. The tallest breed (Irish Wolfhound) has a very short, 7 year average lifespan and the Great Dane 8-10 years. Compare that to 11-15 years for most small breeds.

  3. I have studied longevity and height for about 40 years and I have published in about 40 medical, nutritional, and scientific journals and books. My work has found a longevity advantage for shorter people and therefore supports these findings. A number of biological mechanisms are at work to promote longevity for smaller people. These include:

    1. Fewer cell replications allow a reserve of cells for use during old age.
    2. Insulin and other growth factors are lower and low levels are related to greater longevity.
    3. Smaller left ventricular mass of the heart is related to reduced heart failure and all-cause mortality.
    4. Lower levels of C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and glucose reduce mortality.
    5. Lower blood pressure.
    6. Lower damage to DNA.
    7. Lower free radical generation with reduced cell damage.
    8. Higher sex hormone binding globulin (low levels have a variety of harmful effects.)

    The above assumes similar economic status, lifestyle, and body proportions. Height is about 10% of the longevity picture. Therefore, tall people can offset their tall height by improved nutrition, lower weight and lifestyle habits. However, I found that we lose about 1.3 years per inch of increased height.

    For more information on how our physiology, performance and impact on resources and the environment change with increasing body size, see http://www.humanbodysize.

    The book, The Truth About Your Height, provides information on height as well.

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