Does Shortness Bring a Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

A new study in Diabetologia tells us that shortness may heighten a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes. Over seven years, researchers observed a higher risk for type 2 diabetes among shorter people in a cohort of 2,500 individuals. Age, lifestyle, education, and waist circumference didn’t explain it. Even after accounting for those factors, the relationship between adult height and diabetes risk persisted.

Liver Fat

Investigators did find that the higher risk seems to have something to do with liver fat. Researchers found more liver fat in shorter individuals. In fact, this observation is not entirely new. In fact, a 2016 paper documented an inverse relationship between height and liver fat.

This was not a small effect. Ten centimeters in height yielded as much as a 40 percent reduction in reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. The risk estimate for men was a bit larger than for women. But those differences were not significant.

In addition, leg length seemed to explain some of the risk, at least for men. Men with longer legs had less diabetes risk. This difference was independent of height. This was not quite true for women.

Height and Obesity

Height and obesity are two things that people do not choose. Heritability explains about 60 to 80 percent of how tall a person will be. Nutrition explains most of the rest of it. Likewise, about 70 percent of a person’s risk of obesity comes from the gene pool they inherit.

In this research, we see a common thread. Obesity is not strictly a matter of height and weight. It really comes down to unhealthy adiposity. Deposition of fat in the liver is an especially unhealthy example. Thus, someone with a relatively low BMI can have symptoms of obesity if their body is storing a lot of fat in the liver. Some people call it “skinny fat.” Scientists call it normal weight central obesity.

So it’s interesting to see that liver fat might have a relationship with shortness. It’s a small clue to the origins of risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Click here for the study and here for further reporting on it.

Height, photograph © Jenn Durfey / flickr

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Month #, 2019

3 Responses to “Does Shortness Bring a Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?”

  1. September 11, 2019 at 12:13 pm, John DiTraglia MD said:

    yes! height has a lot to teach us about obesity. While height is 60-80% explained by genes as you say, really the math is complicated and I think it’s safe to say that nutrition in our society has very close to zero effect. Likewise weight.
    It would be close to impossible to affect your height by dieting at any time in your life. Likewise weight.
    Height had long ago stopped increasing while weight kept going up. Why would that be?
    Height is affected by hormones. Likewise weight.

    • September 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, John. I can’t find scientific evidence to say that nutrition has zero effect on height.

  2. September 13, 2019 at 9:55 am, Allen Browne said:

    Obesity in children is related to an early growth spurt and early closure of the growth plates (epiphyseal plates) resulting in shorter height than would be predicted by evaluating the parents. This effect is reversed by early control of obesity with bariatric surgery ( Dr. Alqatani’s work from Saudi Arabia)