Educational attainment and late life telomere length in the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study

Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Jan;27(1):15-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.08.014. Epub 2012 Sep 5.


Morbidity and mortality are greater among socially disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups and those of lower socioeconomic status (SES). Greater chronic stress exposure in disadvantaged groups may contribute to this by accelerating cellular aging, indexed by shorter age-adjusted telomere length. While studies consistently relate shorter leukocyte telomere length (LTL) to stress, the few studies, mostly from the UK, examining associations of LTL with SES have been mixed. The current study examined associations between educational attainment and LTL among 2599 high-functioning black and white adults age 70-79 from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study. Multiple regression analyses tested associations of race/ethnicity, educational attainment and income with LTL, adjusting for potential confounders. Those with only a high school education had significantly shorter mean LTL (4806 basepairs) than those with post-high school education (4926 basepairs; B=125, SE=47.6, p=.009). A significant interaction of race and education (B=207.8, SE=98.7, p=.035) revealed more beneficial effects of post-high school education for blacks than for whites. Smokers had shorter LTL than non-smokers, but the association of education and LTL remained significant when smoking was covaried (B=119.7, SE=47.6, p=.012). While higher income was associated with longer LTL, the effect was not significant (p>.10). This study provides the first demonstration of an association between educational attainment and LTL in a US population where higher education appears to have a protective effect against telomere shortening, particularly in blacks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Social Class*
  • Telomere Shortening*