Importance: Biological aging is a distinct construct from health; however, people who age quickly are more likely to experience poor health. Identifying pediatric health conditions associated with accelerated aging could help develop treatment approaches to slow midlife aging and prevent poor health in later life.
Objective: To examine the association between 4 treatable health conditions in adolescence and accelerated aging at midlife.
Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study analyzed data from participants in the Dunedin Study, a longitudinal investigation of health and behavior among a birth cohort born between April 1, 1972, and March 31, 1973, in Dunedin, New Zealand, and followed up until age 45 years. Participants underwent an assessment at age 45 years and had data for at least 1 adolescent health condition (asthma, smoking, obesity, and psychological disorders) and outcome measure (pace of aging, gait speed, brain age, and facial age). Data analysis was performed from February 11 to September 27, 2021.
Exposures: Asthma, cigarette smoking, obesity, and psychological disorders were assessed at age 11, 13, and 15 years.
Main outcomes and measures: The outcome was a midlife aging factor composite score comprising 4 measures of biological aging: pace of aging, gait speed, brain age (specifically, BrainAGE score), and facial age.
Results: A total of 910 participants (459 men [50.4%]) met the inclusion criteria, including an assessment at age 45 years. Participants who had smoked daily (0.61 [95% CI, 0.43-0.79] SD units), had obesity (0.82 [95% CI, 0.59-1.06] SD units), or had a psychological disorder diagnosis (0.43 [95% CI, 0.29-0.56] SD units) during adolescence were biologically older at midlife compared with participants without these conditions. Participants with asthma were not biologically older at midlife (0.02 [95% CI, -0.14 to 0.19] SD units) compared with those without asthma. These results remained unchanged after adjusting for childhood risk factors such as poor health, socioeconomic disadvantage, and adverse experiences.
Conclusions and relevance: This study found that adolescent smoking, obesity, and psychological disorder diagnoses were associated with older biological age at midlife. These health conditions could be treated during adolescence to reduce the risk of accelerated biological aging later in life.