Are you a tall postmenopausal woman? Apparently your cancer risk is higher than if you were shorter, according to this helpful article. But the author never defines “tall,” so readers have no idea at what point the diminishing returns for height begin to show up. And of course there’s nothing a person could do about her height anyway (wearing flats doesn’t count).
What’s more, to make things even more convoluted, increased height confers cardiovascular benefits. So, does the height evidence constitute a wash?
Sometimes I think articles like this one—and articles about health in general, even in medical journals (or maybe especially in medical journals?)—are designed to increase our anxiety and maximize the number of worried well among us. The effects they describe, including this one for height, tend to be very small. Finding tend to be expressed in terms of percentages—such as “20%” more likely to”—rather than absolute numbers (“6 rather than 5 in 100,000,” which is the same as “20% more likely to” but sounds a lot less compelling). Plus, it’s often very hard to know whether a seeming effect is causation or correlation. And it’s not unusual for half the studies to contradict the other half.
We are upset by our cholesterol, our weight, our bone densities, our handedness (left-handed, like me? BAD!), and just about every other figure that can be measured. So, what to do? Worry? Relax? Obsessive focus? Blissful ignorance? Happy medium, anyone?