Several studies have established that taller people today tend to live longer. Now a team of British researchers has found that the same holds true for past generationsduring times when disease patterns and other life threats were quite different. Their findings appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

David Gunnell of the University of Bristol and his colleagues looked at 3,000 skeletons excavated at an archaeological site in Barton on Humber in the northeast of England. After they excluded the bones of children, adolescents and individuals whose gender or age at death was unclear, they were left with the remains of 490 people who had died some time between the ninth century and the mid-19th century. As average height varies with gender, the team then separated the 321 men from the 169 women and measured their so-called long bones. To determine an individual's age at death, they looked at changes in the pelvis and the amount of wear on their teeth.

According to the results, 55 percent of the men and 73 percent of the women died before age 45, whereas 39 and 56 percent, respectively, died before age 30. The authors also found that those with longer bones were more likely to live past the age of 30, supporting the theory that longer bones coincide with longer lives.

The researchers caution, however, that they don't know if their sample is representative of the general population at any given time. Also they point out that they were unable to determine either the cause of death or the socioeconomic status of the individuals studied. "Mechanisms for height-mortality associations in the past may differ from those of today," they write. "For example, short stature may have increased the risk of death in childbirth, and this may account for the higher risk of premature mortality in women. However, short bones, it would appear, have always been a marker of a short life."