People over 6ft have double the risk of coronavirus, study suggests

tall graphic
tall graphic

People who are over 6ft tall have more than double the chance of being diagnosed with Covid-19, a survey suggests.

An international team of researchers, including experts from the University of Manchester and Open University, surveyed 2,000 people in the UK and US to look at whether personal attributes, work and living practices might influence transmission.

The team found taller people are at higher risk, which scientists say suggests coronavirus is transmitting through the air because height would not make a difference if people were contracting it exclusively through droplets.

Aerosols can accumulate in poorly-ventilated areas and are carried by air currents. Droplets, however, are bigger than aerosols and thought to travel relatively short distances and drop quickly from the air.

Professor Evan Kontopantelis, of the University of Manchester, said: "The results of this survey in terms of associations between height and diagnosis suggest downward droplet transmission is not the only transmission mechanism and aerosol transmission is possible.

"This has been suggested by other studies, but our method of confirmation is novel.

"Though social distancing is still important, because transmission by droplets is still likely to occur, it does suggest that mask wearing may be just as – if not more – effective in prevention. But also, air purification in interior spaces should be further explored."

The survey also found that using a shared kitchen or accommodation – a proxy for deprivation – was also a significant factor, in both the US and UK, but especially in the US where the odds of catching the virus are 3.5 times as high. In the UK they were 1.7 times higher.

People with natural science degrees in the UK were also slightly less likely to get the disease.

Although the paper is yet to be peer-reviewed, the authors said it might help people take greater precautions and help refine shielding guidance.

Professor Paul Anand, a research director at the Open University, said: "Much scientific research has focused on patterns of spread and underlying mechanisms of transmission. But as economies and societies reopen, it is important to know more about the role of personal factors as predictors of transmission.

"Though both are market economies, the US and UK differ in the extent and manner in which they provide access to healthcare and welfare support – and that, to some extent, is demonstrated by the associations shown by the data."

Rolando Gonzales Martinez, a researcher of the University of Agder, in Norway, said: "Both structural and individual factors must be taken into account when predicting transmission or designing effective public health measures and messages to prevent or contain transmission.

"But it would be helpful to have repeat observations so more could be said about changes over time."