Aims: Shorter telomere length is associated with increased chronic disease risk in adulthood including diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular risk. Few studies have evaluated the relationship between telomere length change and incident disease risk in populations with a high percentage of overweight and obesity.
Results: In an urban Latina population recruited in San Francisco (n = 82) with a high prevalence of overweight and obesity (78.4%), we assessed leukocyte telomere length and telomere length change over a 1-year period in relation to obesity, chronicity of obesity, and incident metabolic disease risk 5-6 years later. We also assessed the relationship between telomere length change over a 1-year period and weight loss. There were no significant associations between baseline telomere length and socio-demographics including age and ethnicity, or current weight status. Telomere length change, however, was associated with being obese at baseline and previous years of chronic obesity. A high percentage of women who were obese at baseline were also obese the year before (90%) and 2 years before (85%). Obesity at baseline was an independent predictor for increased telomere length attrition (β = -346.9, -568.4 to -125.4; P < 0.01). Similarly, chronic obesity was associated with increased risk for accelerated attrition (β = -280.6, -518.4 to -42.8; P < 0.01).
Innovation: We speculate that accelerated attrition may be a harbinger of metabolic disease. We also found that those who had or developed hypertension had accelerated attrition [-407.4 ± 464.0 vs. -168.1 ± 643.6 (P = 0.03)].
Conclusion: In populations with chronic and long-standing obesity, telomere length attrition rate, rather than baseline telomere length may be a more sensitive indicator of health status including chronic disease development.
Keywords: Latino; chronic obesity; obesity; telomere length.