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Mid-life height loss linked to greater risk of early death in women, says study

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By Aine Fox, PA
Height loss in middle-aged women is linked to a greater risk of early death, researchers have suggested.

A study of more than 2,000 females concluded that each 1cm height loss of height was associated with between 14% and 21% greater odds of death from any cause, after adjusting for potentially influential factors.

The researchers, based in Sweden and Denmark, said cardiovascular disease was a particular risk and that their findings suggest more attention should be paid to height loss in order to identify people who might be at greater risk.

They said this is the first study to report results on the effect of height loss on mortality in women followed from middle age, and that their findings showing a particular association between height loss and stroke mortality has not been reported before.

People can start to lose height in their 40s, with the process – caused by shrinking of vertebral discs, spinal compression fractures and change in posture – speeding up in their 60s, the researchers said.

They analysed data from two studies – the Swedish Prospective Population Study of Women in Gothenburg (PPSWG), and women in the Danish arm of the MONICA project (Monitoring trends and determinants of cardiovascular disease).

A total of 2,406 women born on selected years in 1908–1952 were recruited to baseline examinations at ages 30–60, and re-examined 10–13 years later.

The researchers said women lost on average 0.8cm of height over 11.4 years and that during follow-up over a maximum of 19.3 years, 316 and 309 cases of death occurred in the Swedish and Danish cohorts, respectively.

Cardiovascular disease was the primary cause in 157 cases, including 37 cases of stroke, while 362 cases were due to non-cardiovascular disease causes, they said.

The researchers recommended that regular physical activity could be beneficial in preventing height loss and therefore further contribute to prevention of cardiovascular disease.

In the peer-reviewed study, published in the BMJ Open, they concluded: “Height loss during mid-life is a risk marker for earlier mortality in northern European women.

“Specifically the hazard of CVD (cardiovascular disease) mortality is increased in women with height loss, and the results suggested that stroke mortality may be a major contributor to the total CVD association.

“These findings suggest the need for increased attention to height loss to identify individuals at increased CVD risk. Moreover, regular physical activity may be beneficial not only in prevention of CVD, but also in prevention of height loss and thereby further contributing to CVD prevention.”

The study authors recognised that the low number of stroke deaths implies those results should be interpreted with some caution. They noted they are unable to rule out the influence of other factors including exposure to physical activity and smoking in early life, bone mass, diseases and medical treatments.

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