Tall and thin: They go together, genetics show

Some people have naturally won what the rest of us consider to be the genetic lottery: they’re tall and they’re thin.

New research is showing, though, that many of them probably had just one winning ticket, because for lots of people, the genes for slim and tall go hand in hand.

tall thin people running on the beach

Many tall and thin people hail from Northern Europe

Scientists have found a genetic basis for height and body mass differences between European populations.

University of Queensland Brain Institute researcher Dr Matthew Robinson suggests that the findings could explain why people from northern European countries tended on average to be taller and slimmer than other Europeans. He says the genes that resulted in greater height correlated strongly with genes that reduced body mass index.

“Our findings give a genetic basis to the stereotype of Scandinavians as being tall and lean,” Dr Robinson says. More importantly, the study paves the way to determine whether genetics also plays a role in creating national differences in disorders such as dementia, diabetes and heart disease.

Natural selection

Fellow researcher Professor Peter Visscher says the genetic differences were likely to result from historic natural selection on height and BMI.

“The research suggests that [the people of] tall nations are genetically more likely to be slim,” says Professor Visscher.

Dr Robinson says that on average, 24 percent of the genetic variation in height and eight percent of the genetic variation in BMI could be explained by regional differences. “Countries’ populations differ in many ways, from the height of their people to the prevalence of certain diseases,” he says.

New tool pinpoints genetic sources of disease

The study looked at height and BMI differences in 9416 people from 14 European countries and used data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Dr Robinson says genetic variation between countries could explain national differences in height, but environmental factors were the main determinant of a population’s BMI.

“This suggests that differences in diet, for example, are more important than genetics in creating differences in BMI among nations.”

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