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Am J Epidemiol. 2018 Nov 1;187(11):2346-2354. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwy155.

Socioeconomic Position and DNA Methylation Age Acceleration Across the Life Course.

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Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom.
Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Health, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom.


Accelerated DNA methylation age is linked to all-cause mortality and environmental factors, but studies of associations with socioeconomic position are limited. Researchers generally use small selected samples, and it is unclear how findings obtained with 2 commonly used methods for calculating methylation age (the Horvath method and the Hannum method) translate to general population samples including younger and older adults. Among 1,099 United Kingdom adults aged 28-98 years in 2011-2012, we assessed the relationship of Horvath and Hannum DNA methylation age acceleration with a range of social position measures: current income and employment, education, income and unemployment across a 12-year period, and childhood social class. Accounting for confounders, participants who had been less advantaged in childhood were epigenetically "older" as adults: In comparison with participants who had professional/managerial parents, Hannum age was 1.07 years higher (95% confidence interval: 0.20, 1.94) for participants with parents in semiskilled/unskilled occupations and 1.85 years higher (95% confidence interval: 0.67, 3.02) for those without a working parent at age 14 years. No other robust associations were seen. Results accord with research implicating early life circumstances as critical for DNA methylation age in adulthood. Since methylation age acceleration as measured by the Horvath and Hannum estimators appears strongly linked to chronological age, researchers examining associations with the social environment must take steps to avoid age-related confounding.

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