It's easy for short people to feel overlooked in a land of giants. But the last laugh may be on the giants, as those of shorter stature have proven advantages that often are beneficial in the long run. We've compiled the five ways it's good to be short and how it might help you live a healthier, longer life.
Sure, those who are shorter sometimes can't reach the top shelf. But shorter people of the same proportions as taller people have many physical advantages based on the laws of physics. These advantages are supported by many researchers. Among them, shorter people have:
As a result of these physical attributes, shorter people can excel as gymnasts, divers, skiers, martial artists, rock climbers, figure skaters, rodeo riders, soccer players and long-distance runners. Within their weight classes, they are also excellent wrestlers, boxers and weightlifters.
If you're of below-average height, you will probably get seriously hurt less often. And it's not just about not hitting your heads on things. Shorter people are less likely to break a hip, arm or wrist from falling. This is because they don't have as far to fall, so the impact won't be as hard. Certain physical environments, such as workspaces and airplanes, are less likely to cause neck, back and back problems in smaller people. In addition, shorter people are also less likely to require surgery for herniated spinal discs.
Another advantage of smaller people is that they are less likely to die in auto crashes. One study found that people weighing less than 132 pounds had the lowest risk of dying or suffering serious injuries compared to bigger people. Although height data weren't provided, it is known that height and weight tend to be correlated. Thus, lighter-weight people are more likely to be shorter than heavier people. No adjustments for airbag deployment were made, although other studies have found them to negatively affect short people.
An early paper illustrating the greater longevity of shorter people appeared in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization in 1992. Since then, there have been substantial findings showing that shorter, smaller people live longer. The reason for this is that bigger bodies have more cells and these cells are subject to replacement due to wear or damage. Famed researcher Leonard Hayflick pointed out many years ago that most human body cells have limited capacity for duplication. Because bigger people require a larger number of duplications to reach maturity, they have fewer potential cell doublings left to replace defective or dead cells. Thus, the functional capability of vital organs declines with advanced age because damaged cells can't be replaced.
Furthermore, biologist Dr. Armand Leroi discovered in 2005 that the hormone which controls height (Insulin-like Growth Factor, or IGF) also controls aging. So while people with deficiencies in this hormone will be shorter, they likely will live longer. A new study also showed that oxidative damage to cells increases at a higher rate with increasing height; e.g., an 18 percent increase in height leads to an 83 percent increase in cellular damage. Current gerontological thinking is that oxidative damage leads to aging and death.
The risk of certain diseases is also lower. A few years ago, a comprehensive study of about 300 height and cancer papers concluded that taller people had a 20 to 60 percent higher incidence of cancer compared to shorter people. More recently, breast, testicular and prostate cancer studies found taller women and men suffered from substantially higher cancer rates.
We should point out that, although the risk is lower, short people are not immune to death from heart disease, cancer and other causes. Failure to control diet, physical inactivity, weight, depression and anger can lead to serious health problems. Therefore, poor health and mental practices can lead to reduced longevity for people of any height.
In 2004, Thomas T. Samaras and his associates published a paper in the Medical Science Monitor which reviewed published data showing that shorter people have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Data from Europe, California, Native American tribes, Japan, Okinawa, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan and India showed large increases in coronary heart disease as height increased. The report was based on millions of deaths as well as both heterogeneous and homogeneous population samples.
Earlier studies by other researchers either found that shorter people have more incidents of cardiovascular disease than taller people or that there is little difference between tall and short people. A recent large study in Korea found no significant relation between height and heart disease. In recent years, researchers have also reported that increased risk of heart disease in short people may be due to higher levels of cholesterol and body weight. Many studies from traditional societies have found very little to no cardiovascular disease among these populations which are almost always quite short and light.
In addition to potentially having a lower risk of heart disease, short people also have a lower risk of blood clots. Dr. Sigrid Braekkan of Norway's University of Trono discovered in 2010 that men who are taller than 5-foot-8 are up to 2.5x more likely than shorter people to develop venous thromboembolism, a collection of conditions that leads to recurring clotting. It is believed that this is because muscles have to pump blood farther in tall people, which can lead to reduced flow in the extremities.
A population of 6 billion people averaging 6 feet and 190 pounds can impact human survival by creating more pollution and depletion of resources, such as water, energy, minerals, farmland and oil. The reason for this is that a 6-foot person weighing 190 pounds is 73 percent heavier and has 44 percent more surface area than a 5-foot person weighing 110 pounds. (The weight difference is based on tall and short people having the same proportions.)
If the future U.S. population increased by 20 percent, we would need additional 1.5 billion tons of minerals, plastics, and metals; 86 trillion additional gallons of fresh water; 180 million additional acres of farmland; and 80 million added tons of garbage. We would also produce 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide, which is involved in global heating. And virtually everything else we use in modern society would increase because things are usually scaled to average human size. The current average height in the U.S. is approximately 5-foot-10 for men and 5-foot-4 for women. But the height of a generation can drop if fewer resources are available, as seen in underdeveloped countries.