Association between infection burden and adult height

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Although highly heritable, adult height is also associated with numerous environmental factors, including exposure to infection. Particularly in developing regions of the world, infection burden appears to slow growth during childhood. Using a large database representative of the US population, we examined associations between adult height and leg length and an infection-burden index based on past exposure to Toxocara species, Toxoplasmosis gondii, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes simplex virus 1, and herpes simplex virus 2. In models controlled for age, sex, educational attainment, socioeconomic status, and race-ethnicity, we found that the infection-burden index predicted height (β = −0.10 [95% CI: −0.15, −0.05], p .001<0.001) but not leg length (β = −0.04 [95% CI: −0.12, 0.04], p = 0.357). Both sex and race-ethnicity moderated this association. In addition, exposures to Toxocara species, cytomegalovirus, and hepatitis A were each individually associated with reduced height and reduced leg length. While associations between growth and infection have been found principally in children in developing regions of the world, our findings suggest that the effects of infection on height may persist into adulthood even in developed nations.

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