Adiposity, Telomere Length, and Telomere Attrition in Midlife: the 1946 British Birth Cohort

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Jun 14;73(7):966-972. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx151.


Background: Obesity has been linked with shorter telomere length, both of which have been implicated in ageing, but the impact of early life adiposity on telomere length is unclear.

Methods: We included 2,479 participants from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development with measurements of body mass index, waist and hip circumference, and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) at age 53, of whom 1,000 had second measurements at ages 60-64. Relative LTL was measured with rt-PCR. Linear regression was performed to investigate associations between adiposity and LTL. Body mass index from childhood through adulthood was used to assess adiposity across the life course.

Results: We found no cross-sectional associations between adiposity measures and LTL at ages 53 or 60-64. Longitudinally, each unit gain in waist circumference weakly corresponded with a 0.06% (95% CI: -1.31 to 0.10) LTL decrease annually, with association approaching statistical significance (p = 0.09). Being overweight at ages 6 and 15 corresponded to a nonsignificant shorter LTL at age 53 and they were associated with 2.06% (95% CI: 0.05-4.08%) and 4.26% (1.98-6.54%) less LTL attrition in midlife, respectively, compared to those who were not overweight.

Conclusion: There is a weak indication that greater telomere loss was seen with greater concurrent body mass index gain. Adolescent overweight corresponded to shorter telomeres in midlife, albeit weakly, and with less subsequent attrition. Our findings point toward potential pathways which may link adiposity and ageing outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / genetics*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / pathology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Overweight / genetics
  • Overweight / pathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Telomere / pathology*
  • Telomere Homeostasis / genetics
  • Telomere Shortening / genetics*
  • United Kingdom
  • Waist Circumference