Could height be a predictor of your cancer risk? That’s what a team of researchers from Deutsches Zentrum fuer Diabetesforschung (DZD) in Germany are suggesting. According to their study, the high calorie- and animal-fat laden diets that help people grow big and tall may also make them more susceptible to developing cancer later in life.

The study, now published in the online journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, included data from 121 prospective studies with more than one million people. An analysis of the data revealed certain associations between respondents' height and their health status. For example, increased adult height was strongly associated with decreased mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure but increased mortality from cancer in both men and women.

While height is mostly caused by genetic factors, global trends have suggested that our diets do play a noticeable role in how tall we will eventually grow. For example, while research shows that the trend of children being taller than their parents has persisted for centuries, during hardships such as World War I and World War II, the heights of children actually declined, Scientific American reported.

The DZD scientists hypothesized that these same dietary differences that contributed to increases and decreases in population height may also account for certain health discrepancies among individuals of various statures. The teams suggested that height may be a marker of overnutrition — an overconsumption of high-calorie foods rich in animal protein — during the early stages of growth. This overnutrition then triggered certain biological processes that had both positive and negative consequences, such as increased sensitivity to insulin and activation of certain genes.

Professor Norbert Stefan, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained in a recent statement that sensitivity to insulin can cause lower fat content in the liver, “which may explain their [tall people] lower risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The same biological process that causes insulin sensitivity may also lead to the permanent activation of genes that control cell growth.

“The data that derived from several studies suggest that over-nutrition, particularly increased intake of animal proteins such as milk and dairy products, result in a possibly lifelong activation of the genes insulin-like growth factor 1 and 2 (IGF-1 and IGF-2),” Stefan told Medical Daily in an email.

Becauses these genes play a role in cell growth, their constant activation could pose a significant cancer risk. This is especially true in the case of breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma.

The DZD study is far from the first to have pointed towards a link between height and cancer risk. For example, a Swedish study published last October found that for every 4 inches added to an individual's height, their overall cancer risk if increased by 18 percent in women and 11 percent in men. However, this team suggested an alternative explanation to this observation: Sheer size.

“Another hypothesis could be that taller people simply have a larger number of cells in their bodies that then could potentially transform into cancer,” the team wrote in their research.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the increased cancer risk, the DZD researchers believe the risk is significant enough for doctors to take note.

“They should be made aware of the fact that tall people - although less often affected by cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes - have an increased risk of cancer,” wrote Stefan in an email.

Source: Stefan N, Haring HU, Hu FB, Schulze MB.Divergent associations of height with cardiometabolic disease and cancer: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and global implications. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2016