Background: This study examined the association between leukocyte telomere length--a marker of cell aging--and mortality in a nationally representative sample of US adults ages 50-84 years. We also examined moderating effects of age, sex, race/ethnicity, and education.
Methods: Data were from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2002 (n = 3,091). Cox proportional hazards regression was used to estimate the risk of all-cause and cause- specific mortality adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, smoking, body mass index, and chronic conditions.
Results: Eight hundred and seventy deaths occurred over an average of 9.5 years of follow-up. In the full sample, a decrease of 1 kilobase pair in telomere length at baseline was marginally associated with a 10% increased hazard of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.1, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.9, 1.4) and a 30% increased hazard of death due to diseases other than cardiovascular disease or cancer (HR: 1.3, 95% CI: 0.9, 1.9). Among African-American but not white or Mexican-American respondents, a decrease of 1 kilobase pair in telomere length at baseline was associated with a two-fold increased hazard of cardiovascular mortality (HR: 2.0, 95% CI: 1.3, 3.1). There was no association between telomere length and cancer mortality.
Conclusions: The association between leukocyte telomere length and mortality differs by race/ethnicity and cause of death.