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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK
Short legs linked to heart risk
Model's legs
The longer your legs, the lower your heart disease risk
Women with short legs have a higher risk of developing heart disease than their leggier sisters, researchers say.

A study of more than 4,000 women by Bristol University looked at leg length because it is an indicator of childhood diet and living conditions.

Other factors, such as being older, obese and smoking were found to increase heart disease risk.

But writing in Heart, the researchers said women's risk decreased by 16% for every extra 4.3cm in leg length.

Factors which stunt growth such as smoking and poor diet also increase your risk of coronary heart disease
Judy O'Sullivan, British Heart Foundation
Researchers from Bristol University's Department of Social Medicine measured the height, leg length, trunk length and weight of women aged between 60 and 79 from across Britain.

They also tested how well their lungs worked, whether they were former or current smokers, and noted their social class.

Almost 700 of the 4,000 women had heart disease. Just under one third (31%) of the 700 had a history of heart attacks.

These women were more likely to have poorer lung function, higher cholesterol levels and to be more insulin resistant, which can be an indication they will go on to develop diabetes, and to come from working class families.

'Early life'

But even when all these risk factors were taken into account, leg length was still strongly linked to a woman's risk of developing heart disease.

Those who had experienced heart problems had leg lengths ranging from 746.2 to 752.6mm. compared to healthy women whose legs measured 757.5 to 760.3mm.

Dr Debbie Lawlor, who led the study, said: "The protective effect of tall stature is unlikely to be the result of wider arteries or to less height shrinkage with age."

Instead, she said it was likely to be an indication of environmental factors from birth up to puberty which affected both growth of the bones in the legs and which have a long-term effect on future heart disease risk.

She added: "Breast feeding, high energy diets at the age of two and being born into an affluent family all positively influence growth; having parents who smoke and being born into a poor family negatively influence growth.

'Controllable risk factors'

"The association between leg length and heart disease suggests that these early life risk factors also cause heart disease."

Judy O'Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Latest figures show that around 53,000 UK women die each year of heart disease.

"What this study highlights is that factors which stunt growth such as smoking and poor diet also increase your risk of coronary heart disease."

She added: "It was also noted that the women with CHD were more likely to be either current or ex-smokers, have high cholesterol levels and be obese.

"The many controllable risk factors which have long been associated with CHD, such as smoking, eating an unbalanced diet, high blood pressure and inactivity, must not be forgotten."

Heart disease 'on the increase'
04 Jun 04  |  Health
Women warned over heart disease
22 Jan 03  |  Health

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