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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2017 Aug 9. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx151. [Epub ahead of print]

Adiposity, telomere length and telomere attrition in midlife: the 1946 British Birth Cohort.

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MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL, 33 Bedford Place London WC1B 5JU, UK.



Obesity has been linked with shorter telomere length, both of which have been implicated in ageing, but the impact of early life adiposity on telomere length is unclear.


We included 2,479 participants from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development with measurements of body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) at age 53, of whom 1,000 had second measurements at age 60-64. Relative LTL was measured with rt-PCR. Linear regression was performed to investigate associations between adiposity and LTL. BMI from childhood through adulthood was used to assess adiposity across the life course.


We found no cross-sectional associations between adiposity measures and LTL at age 53 or 60-64. Longitudinally, each unit gain in waist circumference weakly corresponded with a 0.06% (95% CI: -1.31 to 0.10) LTL decrease annually, with association approaching statistical significance (P=0.09). Being overweight at age 6 and 15 corresponded to a non-significant shorter LTL at age 53 and they are associated with 2.06% (95% CI: 0.05 to 4.08%) and 4.26% (1.98 to 6.54%) less LTL attrition in midlife, respectively compared to those who were not overweight.


There is a weak indication that greater telomere loss was seen with greater concurrent BMI gain. Adolescent overweight corresponded to shorter telomeres in midlife, albeit weakly, and with less subsequent attrition. Our findings point toward potential pathways which may link adiposity and ageing outcomes.


cohort; life course; obesity; overweight; telomere length

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