March 29 (UPI) -- When it comes to developing heart disease, a person's height may matter more than their diet.
For shorter people, having poorly functioning lungs can cause heart disease, according to new research published Wednesday in Communications Biology.
"Understanding the causal relationship behind an observation such as the inverse relationship between adult height and heart disease risk is important in advancing our knowledge about the disease and has the potential to point towards lifestyle interventions that can impact disease prevention," said Panos Deloukas, a researcher from Queen Mary University of London and study senior author, in a news release.
The researchers found that the lung function had a bigger impact on whether shorter people developed traditional risk factors for heart disease like blood pressure, fat percentage, cholesterol and triglycerides.
"Our results suggest that we need to assess lung function alongside someone's height to have a better handle in predicting their risk in developing heart disease," Deloukas said.
The height of the average man in the U.S. is 5 feet 7, while the average woman is 5 feet 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Individuals of shorter statute can consider regular exercise and the avoidance of a sedentary lifestyle and smoking to reduce their risk of heart disease given that, as we showed in this study, the effect of shorter height on the risk of heart disease is mediated by lung function," Deloukas said.
More than half the deaths in the U.S. result from heart disease, which kills more than 600,000 each year, the CDC says.
The researchers want to pinpoint the key risk factors for heart disease to more effectively cut down lifestyle behaviors that could reduce the risk of developing the condition.
"Our findings and further studies of this nature, empower efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle and in particular physical activity that can lead to improved lung function," Deloukas said.