Do Taller People Have a Heightened Risk of Catching COVID-19?

A non-peer reviewed study suggested that height may influence a person's likelihood to become infected with SARS-CoV-2.

  • Published 31 July 2020

Claim

Taller people are at a higher risk of catching the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

Rating

What's True

An unpublished study found what it described as "weak" evidence that suggests height may be a predictor of COVID-19 infection, with people 6 feet tall or taller more likely to contract the virus. The study consisted of a short survey of 2,000 people living in the United Kingdom and the United States and found that being tall may increase the probability of an individual being diagnosed with the respiratory disease.

What's False

The study was published in the preprint server medRxiv, which means that the findings have not been peer-reviewed, and because they have yet to be evaluated, should not be used to guide clinical practice. Furthermore, a link between height and infection rate does not equate to a causal relationship.

Origin

 
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Media outlets in late July 2020 circulated reports that taller people may be at a higher risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. The news came as much of the world continued to see increasing infection rates, and many economies were considering either reopening or extending lockdown measures.

This claim is unproven. No conclusive scientific evidence exists linking height to COVID-19 infection, and the study referred to by news publications has not been peer-reviewed. 

The unpublished study made available in advance of its publication date found “weak” evidence linking a person’s height with an increased risk of COVID-19 infection, and those who stand 6 feet and taller were found more likely to contract the virus. The study findings were posted on July 15, 2020, in the preprint server medRxiv, which means that the findings have not been peer-reviewed or published in any academic journal. Though early releases of research can provide important and relevant findings that help to inform further research, they should not be used to guide clinical practice or be taken as scientific. (You can learn more about preprint publications here.) 

Using a five-minute survey, the study aimed to identify “work-related and personal factors that contribute to or could limit the spread of the virus.” The authors, in a speculative statement, suggest that a relationship between height and risk might stem from the importance of aerosol transmission over droplet transmission.