Small people often come up short. They are commonly regarded as less attractive to the opposite sex, are paid less in the workplace and, yes, occasionally need help reaching things down from high shelves.
Just this week, academics at Chapman University discovered that short men had one to three fewer sexual partners than average or above average height people. It would appear that there are just no bright sides to being pint-size.
And yet, every once in a while, along comes a study or survey which reveals a hitherto unknown health benefit of being Lilliputian.
Several notable pieces of research have suggested that shortness is, if not the most desirable body size, an effective defence against some of the most damaging bodily disorders and conditions known to man. From blood clots to depression, the asserted advantages are many.
So stop wallowing over your lack of loftiness, embrace your height and prepare yourself for the five most surprising health benefits of being short.
1. Being short carries a reduced risk of cancer
A major study published this week by the Karolinska Institute has revealed that the taller you stand, the more likely you are to develop cancer. According to researchers, the cancer risk for men increases by 11 per cent for every extra 10cm of height, whilst rising for women by a shocking 18pc per 10cm.
Studying data gathered on 5.5 million people born between 1938 and 1991, with heights ranging from 3ft 3in to 7ft 6in, the Swedish academics found that people of above average height were up to 30pc more susceptible to skin cancer.
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Dr Emelie Benyi, head of the research team, believes that there are several possible reasons for the link. “One is that taller people have a larger number of cells in their body,” she says, “which could potentially transform to cancer. It could also be that taller individuals have a higher energy intake which has previously been linked to cancer.”
A link between height and cancer has been theorised for some time, but this is by far the largest study that has been conducted to determine the true extent of the problem. The message, however, is clear: the shorter you are, the safer you are.
2. Being short means you’re less likely to develop blood clots
The Scandinavians appear to be championing the little guy, as the next pint-size perquisite also comes from our Northern cousins. After collecting data from 26,714 men and women, Dr Sigrid Braekkan and his colleagues at Norway’s University of Tromso discovered that taller people are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop VTE.
Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) is the collective name for both deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – and studies have shown that those with higher heights and weights are more susceptible to suffering their effects.
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Men over the height of 5ft 8in were found to be up to 2.57 times more likely to develop these reccurent blood clots, with those who are both tall and overweight up to 5.28 times more likely to fall victim to the serious and potentially fatal medical condition.
“In tall people, the blood must be pumped a longer distance by the calf muscle pump,” explains Dr Braekkan, “and this may cause reduced flow in the legs and thereby raise the risk of clotting.”
3. If you are short, you are likely to live longer
Your body itself may not be long, but statistically your life will be. Ten years ago, evolutionary biologist and Imperial College professor Dr Armand Leroi discovered that the hormone that controls height, called the Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF), also controls ageing.
A low level of IGF means a longer life expectancy. “We know that big dogs seem to die early in life while smaller dogs enjoy more longevity,” Leroi explains. “Dwarf mice, whose growth has been deliberately stunted, live up to 75 per cent longer than their normal-sized neighbours and now, new studies are showing this link also exists in humans. Many small people have deficiencies in IGF and there’s a suggestion they live longer.”
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Additional research by American Tom Samaras revealed that every extra inch of height shortens life expectancy by an average of 1.2 years. “Most people believe that being taller and heavier is a sign of higher social status and privilege,” wrote Samaras. “However, an objective evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of increased body size (excluding obesity) indicated that shorter, smaller bodies have numerous advantages in terms of health and longevity.”
So in the Top Trumps of life, longevity, the ‘biggie’ is won every time by the shorties – which not only piles extra irony on the expression ‘life’s too short’, but also awards the last laugh to the little.
4. Short people are less likely to encounter stressful situations
Save for getting lost in crowds or having to shorten every pair of trousers you ever buy, the life of an individual of restricted height is pretty plain sailing. Research has proven that short people have it easier in the social arena than those who tower above them.
Married men who stand below 5ft 7in are 32pc less likely to divorce their partner than grooms of average height, according to a 2014 New York University study. Smaller men are also less likely to get into fights or be antagonised – counter to what Small Man Syndrome may suggest. Not having to deal with these stressors makes for a calmer life and, as a result, the chances of developing depression or anxiety also diminish.
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The researchers at New York University suspect that the lower divorce rates can be attributed to the fact that shorter men tend to tie the knot later in life. “If the courtship process takes longer for shorter men on average” says study author Abigail Weitzman, “then the short men who eventually enter marriage may be entering it on more solid ground.”
The social stigma of shortness, whilst causing some distress in their youth, can be seen as an advantage in later life. After years of heightist persecution, shorter people create more meaningful relationships and make considered decisions to create a well-structured and trouble-free life.
5. Being short puts you at lower risk of heat exhaustion or sun stroke
Tom Samaras, the American researcher who studied the correlation between height and life expectancy, has also studied the effects of heat on different body types. His findings show that the shorter a person is, the less likely they are to suffer the ill effects of the sun.
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“The advantage of tall people keeping warmer in cold weather becomes a disadvantage in hot weather,” writes Samaras. “Thus, in a hot environment, the shorter person’s surface area in proportion to body heat generated at rest allows him/her to lose heat more readily than taller people of similar body builds.”
In Layman’s terms, the larger a person is, the more body they have to get hot. And, because this heat dissipates through skin at a slower rate than it is created, the extra surface area a tall person has is rendered almost inconsequential to the speed of the cooling down process. Ergo, small people don’t initially generate as much heat and so expelling it in great volumes is never an issue.
So the next time you feel like you’ve pulled the short straw in life, stand as tall as you can and remember that being petite has its perks. From the multitude of cardiovascular advantages to the psychological benefits, small people might just be the big winners.