Online Program

Social Disparities in Telomere Length among Older U.S. Adults: Differences by Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Age

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lauren Brown, M.P.H., Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Belinda Needham, School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Jennifer Ailshire, PhD, Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
background: Telomeres are recognized as fundamental to the human aging process and telomere length (TL) is hypothesized to be a biomarker of aging. Prior research suggests shorter TL is associated with older age, male gender, and Caucasian race. However, little is known about differences in TL across race/ethnicity and gender or how these differences vary by age in older adults. This study examines the social patterning of TL among older adults by simultaneously characterizing differences within and between race/ethnic and gender groups across age.

methods: Data are comprised of 5,228 white, black, and Hispanic respondents ages 54+ from the 2008 Health and Retirement Study. Mean TL was assayed from saliva using quantitative PCR (qPCR) by comparing telomere sequence copy number in each patient’s sample (T) to a single-copy gene copy number (S), resulting in a T/S ratio. Linear regression was used with pairwise comparisons of mean TL across race/ethnicity and gender groups (adjusting for age). Models were later adjusted for education, marital status, employment, income, wealth, BMI, smoking, and sedentary behavior.

results: We found that women and blacks have longer TL, yet black women may be driving differences in TL by race/ethnicity and, to a lesser degree, gender. Differences by race/ethnicity and gender did not vary across age, yet race/ethnic differences in TL were greater among women than men across age.

conclusion: These findings suggest the importance of investigating disparities in TL using multiple dimensions of identity and social status as an important distinction to understanding population variation in TL.

Learning Areas:

Public health biology

Learning Objectives:
Explain how the social patterning of telomere length varies across race/ethnicity (white, black, & Hispanic) and gender groups among older U.S. adults.

Keyword(s): Aging, Health Disparities/Inequities

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a PhD student in at the Davis School of Gerontology and have spent the first two years of my program devoted to learning the ways in which social environments "get under the skin" and impact health. I also spent the summer studying under Belinda Needham at the U of Michigan, a well published epidemiologist examining TL using the NHANES data. Needham oversaw my work on this project.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.