The Relationship Between Childhood Psychosocial Stressor Level and Telomere Length: A Meta-Analysis

Health Psychol Res. 2017 May 16;5(1):6378. doi: 10.4081/hpr.2017.6378.


This meta-analysis examined the association between the level of childhood psychosocial stressors and telomere length, an important health biomarker. The meta-analysis, including 27 samples and 16,238 participants, found a significant association of -0.08 between a higher level of childhood stressors and shorter telomere length at a mean age of 42 across studies. Moderator analyses showed a trend in the direction of effect sizes being significantly larger with shorter times between the stressors and telomere measurement. Moderator analyses showed significantly higher effect sizes for studies that used a categorical method for assessing child stressor level and for assays completed with qPCR rather than with the Southern blot method. There was no significant moderation of effect size by whether study assayed leukocytes or buccal cells, whether the study assessed child stressor level by memory-based recall versus archival records, and whether the study controlled for age, sex, or additional variables. The results, focused on childhood events, add to prior findings that perceived stress and negative emotions are associated with telomere length.

Keywords: childhood stressors; childhood trauma; meta-analysis; telomere; telomere length.