Short people are at higher risk of heart disease, scientists have found - with results suggesting every inch counts.

A study of almost 200,000 people found that every drop of 2.5 inches increased the risk of heart disease by around 13.5 per cent.

The data, gathered by the University of Leicester, means that compared to someone 5ft 6ins tall, a 5ft person will have on average a 32 per cent higher risk of having a dicky heart.

The more height increasing genetic variants that you carry the lower your risk of coronary heart disease, and conversely if you were genetically shorter the higher your risk.

Dr Christopher Nelson, researcher

The association has been known for more than 60 years, but scientists were not sure whether the relationship was causal or whether it was down to other factors such as poverty or poor nutrition during childhood, which could both stunt growth and increase vulnerability to heart disease.

In a bid to overcome these extraneous elements, the researchers investigated 180 genetic variants known to affect height - and they found that there was a direct, DNA-based link with heart disease.

A model of Robert Wadlow, the tallest human being that ever lived Credit: PA

The reasons behind the link are still a mystery, with scientists suggesting it may be down to "shared biological processes" affecting both height and heart disease risk.

Study leader Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, from the University of Leicester, said other known risk factors for coronary heart disease such as cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes could only explain less than a third of the relationship.

Prof Jeremy Pearson from the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said:

By using the power of very large scale genetic studies, this research is the first to show that the known association between increased height and a lower risk of coronary heart disease is at least in part due to genetics, rather than purely down to nutrition or lifestyle factors.

Prof Jeremy Pearson, British Heart Foundation

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.