Socioeconomic status, health behavior, and leukocyte telomere length in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2002

Soc Sci Med. 2013 May;85:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.02.023. Epub 2013 Feb 21.


The purpose of this study was to examine the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) - a marker of cell aging that has been linked to stressful life circumstances - in a nationally representative, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse sample of US adults aged 20-84. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999-2002, we found that respondents who completed less than a high school education had significantly shorter telomeres than those who graduated from college. Income was not associated with LTL. African-Americans had significantly longer telomeres than whites, but there were no significant racial/ethnic differences in the association between education and telomere length. Finally, we found that the association between education and LTL was partially mediated by smoking and body mass index but not by drinking or sedentary behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / ethnology
  • Biomarkers
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Sedentary Behavior / ethnology
  • Smoking / ethnology
  • Social Class*
  • Telomere / ultrastructure*
  • United States
  • White People / psychology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers