Race-Ethnicity, Poverty, Urban Stressors, and Telomere Length in a Detroit Community-based Sample

J Health Soc Behav. 2015 Jun;56(2):199-224. doi: 10.1177/0022146515582100. Epub 2015 Apr 30.


Residents of distressed urban areas suffer early aging-related disease and excess mortality. Using a community-based participatory research approach in a collaboration between social researchers and cellular biologists, we collected a unique data set of 239 black, white, or Mexican adults from a stratified, multistage probability sample of three Detroit neighborhoods. We drew venous blood and measured telomere length (TL), an indicator of stress-mediated biological aging, linking respondents' TL to their community survey responses. We regressed TL on socioeconomic, psychosocial, neighborhood, and behavioral stressors, hypothesizing and finding an interaction between poverty and racial-ethnic group. Poor whites had shorter TL than nonpoor whites; poor and nonpoor blacks had equivalent TL; and poor Mexicans had longer TL than nonpoor Mexicans. Findings suggest unobserved heterogeneity bias is an important threat to the validity of estimates of TL differences by race-ethnicity. They point to health impacts of social identity as contingent, the products of structurally rooted biopsychosocial processes.

Keywords: Latinos; aging; blacks; health disparities; neighborhood; poverty; stressors; telomeres; urban; whites.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mexican Americans*
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Telomere*
  • Urban Population*
  • Whites*