British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers


Short stature and obesity: positive association in adults but inverse association in children and adolescents

Anja Bosy-Westphala1, Sandra Plachta-Danielzika1, Ralf-Peter Dörhöfera2 and Manfred J. Müllera1 c1

a1 Institut für Humanernährung und Lebensmittelkunde, Christian-Albrechts-University, Düsternbrooker Weg 17, D-24105 Kiel, Germany

a2 Data Input Company, Darmstadt, Germany


Shorter than average adults are at a higher risk for obesity and are also more susceptible to diabetes and CVD, independent of BMI. In contrast, taller children have a higher risk of obesity. We hypothesised that short stature is related to adverse body composition and that the association between stature and obesity differs between generations. In a cross-sectional German database of 213 804 adults and 12 411 children and adolescents, the prevalence of overweight and obesity was compared between percentiles of height. The association between stature and percentage of fat mass (%FM), lean BMI (LBMI; kg/m2) or waist:hip ratio (in children only) was analysed within BMI groups. In adults, the prevalence of BMI >30 kg/m2 gradually increased with decreasing percentile of height whereas in children and adolescents, a positive association between height and weight status was observed. Short-stature women and girls had a 0·8–3·2 % lower %FM than tall subjects (P < 0·05), whereas no trend for %FM was observed in males. When compared with tall subjects, LBMI was 0·2–0·6 kg/m2 lower in short-stature men, as well as obese women (P < 0·05). There was a non-significant trend for a lower LBMI and a higher waist:hip ratio in shorter children. In conclusion, short stature is associated with an increased risk of obesity in adults. Cardiometabolic risk in short stature is not explained by an adverse body composition.

(Received March 28 2008)

(Revised October 02 2008)

(Accepted October 13 2008)

(Online publication March 02 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor Dr M. J. Müller, fax +49 431 8805679, email


Abbreviations: %FM, percentage of fat mass; LBMI, lean BMI