WEDNESDAY, April 3, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- The lifestyle choices you make as an adult -- not just your health habits as a child -- influence how much height you lose as you age, researchers say.
Their study also found that age-related loss of height provides clues about other health issues.
For the new study, American and Chinese researchers analyzed data collected from nearly 18,000 adults in China, beginning when they were 45 years old.
"The evidence shows that it is not only early life events that are associated with how we age, but health decisions in later life as well," John Strauss, a professor economics at the University of Southern California, said in a university news release.
He and his colleagues found that the overall age-related height loss was 1.3 inches among men and 1.5 inches among women. However, adults in cities had much less height loss than those in rural areas.
People who completed primary school also lost less height compared to those who were illiterate, 0.35 inches less in men and 0.23 inches less in women. In addition, men who completed high school lost 0.39 inches less than those who were illiterate.
Regardless of maximum height, loss of height is also an important indicator for other health issues as people age, according to the study in the April issue of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.
For example, the researchers found an especially strong link between height loss and memory and thinking skills. People who had lost more height were much more likely to perform poorly on tests of these skills.
Age-related height loss is normal, but that loss can be increased by certain health conditions, including arthritis, inflammation of spine joints or the bone disease osteoporosis. Previous research has shown that these health conditions are associated with lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise and smoking, the study authors noted.
Although the study found an association between lifestyle factors and differences in height loss with age, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about age-related changes in body shape.