The Short Answer about the Methuselah Gene
So is there truth to the claim that shorter people have longer life spans? The short answer is maybe. In only a few special instances can a direct relationship be claimed. In most situations, there is no catch-all predictor for how long a person will live.
Support of the short-stature, long-life claim can be found in people who possess what is being referred to as the Methuselah gene. Researchers have discovered that some people have a rare genetic mutation that decreases their cells' use of a particular growth hormone: insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). As a result, these people tend to be smaller and also live a longer-than-average life span. Many animals' sizes are also controlled by differences in their IGF1-release, with a corresponding increase or decrease in life span. For example, smaller breeds of dogs have less IGF1 than larger breeds and tend to live longer.
But the final analysis? Height (or the causes of height variation) may be a factor, especially in some instances, like for those people who carry the Methuselah gene. However, there are many other dynamics involved in determining how long a person will live. These factors can include genes, lifestyle, birth weight, early childhood care and nutrition, vaccinations, antibiotics, diet and income level.
These factors seem to have an interweaving effect on what the quality of life will be like for however many years a person will live. For instance, some researchers studied the medical records of large populations of people who lived a few centuries ago. Those studies found strong links between a person's health as a fetus and baby (the first two years of life) with his or her state of health as a middle-aged adult. These links were stronger than factors such as someone's lifestyle as an adult. People born and raised under favorable conditions show substantially lower rates of chronic and fatal diseases later in life.
Two studies looked at people whose mothers were pregnant during times of strife, like Holland's Hunger Winter during World War II or 1918's influenza pandemic, compared with those who were pregnant right before or after these stressful times. The offspring of the former group were more likely to have chronic diseases upon reaching middle age than their peers of the latter group [source: Kolata].
So for now, people will have to be content with whatever height they stand at and hope for the best. For more information relating to aging and human health, visit the links on the next page.