Reasons Larger Mass Promotes a Shorter Lifetime
There are several reasons why a larger body size (exempting the known risks
of overweight) reduces the expected lifetime of an individual. One reason
is that a larger body uses more fuel and produces more free radicals as a
by-product of metabolic processes. More free radicals mean more opportunity
for a harmful mutation or creation of cancerous cells. Since a 182.9 cm,
86.4 kg (72", 190 lb) person has about 40 trillion more cells than
a 152.4 cm, 50 kg (60", 110 lb) person, this could significantly increase
the cancer incidence as was found by Gunnell's review of 300 height-cancer
studies.2(p.67) While free radical scavengers, such as the enzymes superoxide
dismutase and catalase, probably increase in proportion to body mass, the
net result is that the relative percentage of free radicals would be the
same. However, the absolute number is greater for the taller person. In addition,
rapid growth and early maturity may increase free radical concentration beyond
that expected simply from greater body weight. Thus, a taller or rapidly
growing person has more cells that can evolve into malignant tumors.
Blood volume is proportional to body mass. Thus, a person who is 20% heavier
would have 20% more blood in his body. Although the heart's size is also
proportional to body size, it must work harder, because the blood must be pumped
a longer distance, e.g., 20% farther for a 182.9 cm person vs. a 154.4 cm person.
However, if a tall person is light for his/her height, the workload on the
heart could be less than that for a shorter, heavier person. As Astrand1 and
others have pointed out, maximum cardiac output (ml/sec) increases as the square
of height or in proportion to surface area and not in proportion to body weight,
which increases as the cube of height. Thus, a taller, bigger person's
heart cannot provide oxygenated and waste-cleansed blood to his or her muscles
as rapidly as a shorter person's heart. This limitation can place the
larger body under greater stress when involved in sustained rigorous work or
athletic activities, which push the cardiac output to its limits.
When doing physical work or walking or running, larger bodies have more difficulty
getting rid of body heat generated because they have less surface area in proportion
to body mass. For example, a 183 cm-long body has only 44% more surface area
in comparison to its 73% greater mass than to a 152 cm-long body. Some studies
have found smaller women maintain body temperature better than men in endurance
type activities. Also many champion marathon runners, such as German Silva,
160 cm and 50 kg (5'3", 110 lb), tend to be short and light.
Lung performance is also affected by size. As Astrand6 has pointed out, lung
surface area increases as the square of the height and not in proportion to
body mass, which increases as the cube of height. While biological adaptation
may develop a surface area greater than the square of height for athletes,
tall people of the same build type should be at a disadvantage in terms of
maximum oxygen uptake (liters per kg/minute). Whether this would have some
effect on the rate of aging is presently unknown. In addition, the large person
has a lower maximum respiration rate.
Another disadvantage of taller height may be related to the fact that brain
size increases with body size at a decreasing rate. Studies have found that
brain size increases at the 2/3 or 3/4 power of body mass. Sacher1 found a
smaller brain weight in relation to body size reduced longevity within a species.
Perhaps this explains part of the difference in male-female longevity, since
women have heavier brains in relation to their body weight. Because of their
smaller bodies, women's brains are on average ten percent smaller compared
to men, but their body weight is ~ 20% less. The reason for the advantage of
a higher brain-to-body weight ratio is not certain but may result from better
neural supervision of the body's functions.
The Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico are great endurance runners with
virtually no heart disease. They are short and light in weight with low resting
heart rates, normal blood pressure, optimal cholesterol and triglyceride levels,
and no evidence of diabetes. In spite of being active, they consume only 1500
calories per day and live on a diet far below what is considered to be an adequate
nutritional intake for calories, protein, and vitamins. Rene Dubos also found
that the short, frail-looking Guatemalan natives were very strong, healthy,
and long-lived.13 They were also grossly underfed by US nutritional standards.
A WHO panel of 11 international nutritional scientists supports the observations
of these researchers. They reviewed the literature and 150 background papers
and concluded that radical changes in our food supply have been at the root
of our modern epidemic of chronic diseases.1 The affluent diet of developed
countries was characterized as one with high consumption of energy-dense foods
of animal origin and of foods processed or prepared with added fat, sugar,
and salt. The panel recommended a BMI of 20-22, a value much lower than the
US's 26+. The panel concluded its report with the following caveat: "...chronic
diseases are, to a large extent, manifestations of nutrient excesses and imbalances
in the diet and are thus largely preventable. An epidemic of cancer, heart
disease, and other chronic ills need not be the inevitable price paid for the
privilege of socioeconomic progress." Today, with our epidemic of obesity,
insulin resistance, and diabetes we are seeing the end results of a 60-year-old
experiment of over-consumption, which is still continuing, particularly in
the now economically developing countries of China and India, which are continuing
to make the same mistakes of over-consumption that those in the West have made.
A number of previous studies over the years have reported greater longevity
for shorter men vs. taller men. These include baseball players, football players,
basketball players, veterans, Harvard graduates, Finnish athletes, and famous
people.2(p.95-103) The most recent data show that populations with the longest
life expectancies are substantially shorter than Northern Europeans, such as
the Dutch, Scandinavians, and Germans. The six populations with the highest
life expectancy in the world are listed in Figure 1.14
Figure 1: Top Life
(projected for 2007) (In order
of decreasing life expectancy)
Andorra (a state between Spain and France)
Macua (Island near Hong Kong)
San Marino (a state in Italy)
Heights for people in Andorra and San Marino were not available and are assumed
to be similar to Spain, Southern France, and Italy. In addition, the people
used to determine projected life expectancy for ages beyond 70 years were substantially
shorter than the youth of today. It should be pointed out that many populations
of tall people have excellent life expectancies. These include Sweden, Norway,
Holland, and Iceland.
Body Size and CVD
Over 20 studies show that taller people have lower mortality from CVD.2(p.78)
As a result, most researchers believe that shorter people suffer from increased
deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke. For example, McCarron and
associates found that taller men had lower CVD compared to shorter men based
on a long-term study involving 338 deaths. However, Song and associates2(p.93)
found no significant difference in CHD based on a study of over 386,000 South
Korean men, which involved 653 deaths. They concluded that other factors
in addition to short height are needed to increase the risk of CHD for shorter
people. However, many more examples of short populations with low to non-existent
CVD exist. A few of those examples are presented below.
Based on the deaths of over one-quarter million California men and women, Wild
and associates found Whites and Blacks had twice the mortality from CHD, compared
to Chinese and Japanese cohorts.2(p.83) While heights were not given, other
sources indicate that the Asians average a few inches shorter than the Whites
and Blacks. Another study, involving 11 Western European countries, found that
the Scandinavians had about twice the mortality from CHD as shorter Portuguese
and Spanish populations.2(p.82,83)
Lindeberg and associates15 reported that a 70-year study in Papua New Guinea
(PNG) found no evidence of CVD in these short people, a population in which
men average about 5'4". Sawari and Bradley2(p.164) also reported
that traditional (or developing) populations have very little CVD, diabetes,
and cancer. Eveleth and Tanner have reported that most of these populations
are quite short and light.16
Shorter females have lower CVD compared to men in virtually all developed populations.
Some exceptions exist in a few developing countries. While female hormones
play a role in the West, they don't seem to be important in traditional
societies that are relatively free of Westernization, such as Kitava (an island
near PNG), where both sexes are free of CVD.2(p.91) Six populations in the
developed world with the lowest CHD are listed in Figure 2.17
Figure 2: Populations (Men) with Lowest CHD Mortality Ranking
Japan (lowest CHD)
Italy (highest CHD)
As in the populations with the longest life expectancies, all six
populations are relatively short compared to Northern Europe. It should
be noted that the southern French are shorter than the French in the
North and also have substantially lower CVD mortality, as illustrated
by Toulouse. The pattern of stroke mortality is not as clear, and Portugal
has almost three times the death rate as Spain. However, France and
Switzerland have the lowest stroke mortality in all of Europe, and
their heights fall between Northern and Southern Europe.
Body Size and Cancer
Gunnell and associates conducted a review of 300 studies and found taller people
had a moderately higher incidence of cancer.2(p.67) Other studies have found
the incidence of the four major cancers – lung, breast, prostate, and
colorectal cancer – are related to greater height. In addition, the
incidence of skin cancer for tall people is about two times that of short
people. However, relatively few people die from skin cancer, which represents
about 50% of all cancers.
Reducing Body Size
Increased body size due to obesity is a worldwide problem and, for those of
us who have reached maturity, requires constant vigilance and control of
our food intake. Whether tall or short, weight loss is an important strategy
for achieving optimum health and longevity. Of course, keeping physically
active is also important. James2(p.148) reported that CVD, diabetes, and
gallstones increase with rising BMI from a baseline of 19-20 kg/m2. For most
Westerners, this is difficult to achieve. However, the closer one gets to
a BMI of 21 to 23 points, the better, assuming that a well-balanced diet
and regular exercise are the foundation for this lean body configuration.
Dr Desnoes has outlined a life-long plan for weight loss and maintenance
of good health in his book Fat Loss Quick Safe and
Simple.18 He correctly
warns against fad or quick weight-loss diets. These won't work for
most people. Instead, a permanent lifestyle change in activity levels and
nutritional practices is needed.
Reasons for Conflicts in Findings
Several reasons for conflicting findings exist. In recent years, researchers
have recognized that promoting rapid growth in lower BW infants promotes
chronic disease in adulthood, such as CVD and diabetes (Singhal et al.2[p.165]).
In trying to have smaller children conform to standard growth charts, excessive
nutrition is provided to accelerate growth, and this process can create health
problems later on in life. Since small infants usually do not attain the
same stature in adulthood as normal-weight peers, studies can erroneously
attribute shorter height to higher mortality when catch-up or accelerated
growth may be the true problem.
Another problem that can confound the results of studies is childhood or adolescent
infections or other pathological conditions that can both reduce growth and
increase the risk for morbidity or mortality in adulthood. There are over 50
diseases that can impact growth, such as H. pylori stomach infection, rheumatic
fever, chronic diarrhea, asthma, and congenital heart disease.
Socioeconomic (SES) class can have a major impact on study results. For example,
some studies have found that the lowest social class has four times the mortality
rate of the highest. Since people with higher SES average a few inches taller
than the lowest class, this difference can provide misleading results if not
accurately adjusted. Most studies do adjust for various risk factors, and this
adjustment tends to reduce the mortality rates of shorter cohorts by five percent
to 20%. However, Wannamethee and associates and other researchers have noted
that adjustment for risk factors is a crude and inexact process.2(p.71)
Studies usually compare short and tall people with about the same BMIs. This
procedure can provide erroneous results, since the studies should compare taller
people with higher BMIs compared to shorter ones. The reason for comparing
taller people with higher BMIs is that tall and short people should be compared
with the same body proportions since body type affects mortality. Adjusting
the BMIs of taller people upward assures a more valid comparison of short and
tall cohorts in a study. For example, if the average height is ten-percent
greater for the tall cohort, then the BMI for this cohort should be ten-percent
higher, as explained in detail in Human Body Size
and the Laws of Scaling.2(p.9-31)
Since mortality increases roughly linearly with increasing BMI, failure to
adjust for BMI can provide a substantially lower mortality for taller people;
e.g., a ten-percent lower BMI decreases mortality by ten percent.2(p.28)
Biological Mechanisms in Relation to Longevity
Taller people have certain biological advantages compared to shorter people.
These include lower resting metabolic rate, lower arterial peripheral resistance,
and lower resting heart rate. These factors have been found to be beneficial
for reducing mortality risk.
In view of the preceding advantages of taller people, why should shorter people
have longer longevity compared to taller people? The key biological disadvantages
of taller bodies of the same proportions follow. However, keep in mind that
differences in body proportions or obesity between tall and short people can
modify these disadvantages:
1. Taller people require more cell replications from birth to attain
full body size. Since many types of cells have a limited number of
cell replications (Hayflick limit) before extinction, taller people
have fewer potential cell replications to replace defective or dead
cells at older ages.
2. Since taller people have more cells than shorter people, these extra
cells provide increased opportunity for cancer development. (A six-foot
tall person may have 40 trillion more cells than a five-foot tall person
of the same body type.)
3. The greater number of cells in taller people increases maintenance
costs by using more cell replication potential to replace lost or damage
cells during their lifetimes. Thus, fewer cell replications are available
for taller persons at older ages.
4. Based on data provided by Giovannelli and associates,2(p.169) it
was found that an 19% taller person had an 85% higher rate of DNA damage.
Thus, the potential for cancer and reduced cellular and organ function
is greater in taller people.
5. Rapid growth in height and weight and early sexual maturity diverts
energy or resources from body maintenance functions that promote longevity
(Rollo2[p.243,266]). This could include reduced cellular repair and
organ growth/maintenance due to increased free radical generation during
childhood. Rapid growth may also reduce the rate of cellular garbage
removal that tends to gradually accumulate over a lifetime with undesirable
6. With the exception of the heart, spleen, and lungs, the relative
size of most organs is smaller in taller people.2(p.136) As a result,
reduced organ functional capability exists, especially at greater ages.
7. Taller people have greater blood pressure, left ventricular mass,
and hypertrophy compared to shorter people. These conditions are independent
risk factors for heart disease. In addition, taller people have more
atrial fibrillation (Hanna2[p.83]).
8. Taller children have earlier adiposity rebound and higher risk for
obesity in adulthood.
9. Assuming similar activity levels, larger bodies experience accelerated
increase in entropy (disorder) with the passage of time due the synergy
of increased cell number and greater energy intake. While this implies
less activity and associated energy expenditure is desirable, a minimum
amount of physical activity is needed to maintain optimum functioning
of the brain and body.
Closing Observations and Conclusions
Many years ago, Dr. Desnoes asked some of his octogenarian patients who were
concentration camp survivors about what factors helped with survival under
the extreme conditions of starvation and overwork by manual labor. All the
survivors – both men and women – were small and thin people with
the tallest being 5'3". They replied that the smaller, thinner,
and muscular people like themselves were the ones that survived. The obese
they said died the fastest, normally lasting less than a week, at the most
two weeks. (This is a paradox since you would think that during periods of
starvation they could live off their fat reserves.) The next group who died
quickly were tall people who also didn't last much longer than a few
weeks. After the fall of Germany, many of the camp guards took off their
uniforms, shaved their heads, and donned the camp pajamas and tried to disguise
themselves as survivors. However, the Americans noticed them right away because
they were fatter and taller than all the survivors, even the ones who had
Body height by itself is not the only factor in increasing chronic disease
and reducing longevity. For example, John Kenneth Galbraith at 6'8" lived
98 years. However, body mass and BMI tend to be strongly associated with height,
and these factors are also strongly correlated with longevity-reducing factors
such as increased cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, glucose, insulin,
insulin-like growth factor, and lower HDL. Whether people are tall or short,
the following recommendations are far more important than height in promoting
longevity: (1) weight control, (2) regular exercise, (3) a diet with relatively
low animal protein and increased emphasis on fruits, legumes, nuts, and vegetables,
and (4) active participation in improving oneself and society. That said, we
feel that we need to drastically alter our thinking regarding the benefits
of a taller, heavier population and begin to implement societal, political,
and corporate changes in attitude to stem the illogical belief that leads to
heightism regarding our societal and corporate preferences for increased height.
Additionally, a larger population requires far more resources, which puts a
greater strain on the environment. Taller and heavier people require more cloth
and leather for their clothing. They require more space for their bodies, larger
houses and seats, more leg room in automobiles and airplanes, etc. If we do
not change our attitude for preferring bigger everything – bigger people,
bigger food portions, bigger houses, etc. – we may all grow ourselves
into extinction. The best we can do is to begin by making changes within ourselves
by consuming less food and lowering our weight. Although we cannot alter our
height, the act of consuming less and feeding our children less will end up
decreasing our body mass over generations and will result in our personal positive
impact on the environment and the planet.
For the survival of the planet and humanity, we must begin to favor a restricted
diet and smaller people, because supplying high-energy diets to large segments
of the population will become increasingly difficult. For example, the world
has lost over 30% of its arable land in the last 40 years due to farming and
other human activities. At this rate, we will not be able to use farmland to
feed cattle for human consumption, since this is a very inefficient way to
grow food. The reduction in our annual fish catch also adds pressure to reduce
human size. The heavy dependence on animal flesh and products is a questionable
luxury that the world will not be able to afford in as little as 30 to 50 years
from now, and we will be forced to move to a low-fat, plant-based diet to feed
the anticipated population of 12 billion people. Under these conditions, smaller
people will help reduce farmland and water needs and will help preserve some
of the rainforests, which are rapidly becoming depleted at 25 to 40 million
acres per year.
The entropy theory of aging appears to be useful in predicting reduced longevity
on the basis of human size and energy needs. Animal studies and a variety of
human studies suggest that reduced food intake from childhood can create smaller
bodies that are healthier, live longer, and are just as intelligent as larger
ones,2(p.301-316) and the findings support the basic premise of the entropy
theory that morbidity and mortality can be reduced through smaller mass and
The problem with the preceding findings is that they go against our society's
deeply held belief that bigger is better. Changing this belief among scientists
as well as the public is the main obstacle to decreasing our ecological burden
to the planet and improving the health and longevity of the human population
for future generations.
Note: The relation of increasing body size
on cognitive ability, the environment, and fiscal costs were not discussed
here. For a further
discussion of the impact of body size on resources, physical performance,
intelligence, and evolutionary considerations refer to Human
Body Size and the Laws of Scaling.2
Thomas T. Samaras
11487 Madera Rosa Way
San Diego, California 92124
Dr. Jonn Desnoes OMD, PhD
15947 N. Florida Ave.
Lutz, Florida 33549
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2006. Available at: http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/701-7098427-8752352?%255Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books-ca&field-author=Morihel%20Ueshiba.(March
2008: Link does not work. Use http://www.amazon.ca/Budo-Teachings-Founder-Morihei-Ueshiba/dp/4770020708/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205688584&sr=1-2)
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