Tall, thin women are more likely to develop a potentially fatal lung disease, researchers say (Reuters)

Women with supermodel-type figures - tall, thin and with concave chests - are at greater risk of developing a potentially fatal lung infection.

Researchers at National Jewish Health have identified that tall thin women are more at risk of developing nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), an infection related to tuberculosis.

Their study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, looked to find out why only some people develop the disease, despite it being a widespread infection

Lead author Edward Chan said: "Nontuberculous mycobacteria are widespread in the environment, yet only some people develop infections

"These findings help us identify who is at greater risk for the disease, and may point to more effective therapies down the road."

NTM can infect skin and other body parts, but it is most commonly found in the lungs. It is difficult to treat and often required surgery, followed by years of therapy with intravenous antibiotics.

The disease tends to affect older women - 85 percent of patients treated at National Jewish Health were over 50, with the average age being 64.

They compared the NTM patients with control subjects at an osteoporosis clinic who were a similar age, race and gender.

Finding showed that NTM patients were, on average, two inches taller, had a body mass index of two points lower and had 5.7lbs less fat on their bodies. Concave chests were also more common in NTM patients.

Chan said: "Tall, thin women definitely appear to be more susceptible to NTM infections."

He said that NTM patients share characteristics with those with Marfan syndrome - a genetic disorder of connective tissue that tends to affect tall people with long limbs: "Since Marfan syndrome is caused by a mutation in the fibrillin-1 gene, we plan to look at that gene as a potential source of NTM susceptibility."

Michael Iseman, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health, added that the NTM patients also had irregularities in their production of fat cells that produce hormones that help to stimulate the immune system.

He said this could increase their susceptibility to NTM infections.