Average heights of adults and children in the counties of England and Wales were examined using national samples of people born between 1920 and 1970. Although height increased over this 50-year period the differences between counties persisted. Average height in a county is closely related to its pattern of death rates, which were derived from all deaths during 1968-78. Counties with taller populations have lower mortality from chronic bronchitis, rheumatic heart disease, ischaemic heart disease and stroke, and higher mortality from three hormone-related cancers, of the breast, prostate and ovary. The inverse relation of height with bronchitis and cardiovascular disease is further evidence of risk factors acting in early childhood. The positive relation between height and cancers of the breast, ovary and prostate could suggest that promotion of child growth has disadvantages as well as benefits.