Background: Telomeres are vulnerable to various environmental exposures and lifestyle factors, encompassed in the exposome. Recent research shows that telomere length is substantially determined early in life and that exposures in childhood may have important consequences in setting later life telomere length.
Objectives: We explore in a child population the associations of 17 exposures with telomere length and longitudinal telomere change.
Methods: Children (2.8-10.3y at baseline, 51.3% boys) were followed-up for five to seven years. Relative telomere length was measured at baseline and follow-up using quantitative real-time PCR. Exposures and lifestyle factors included: body composition (body mass index and waist circumference), dietary habits (sugar- and fat-rich food intake, vegetables and fruit intake), psychosocial stress (events, emotions, behaviour), sleep duration, physical activity, and residential environmental quality (longterm black carbon, particulate matter exposure, and residential green space). Cross-sectional (n=182) and longitudinal (n=150) analyses were assessed using linear regression models, adjusting for age, sex, socioeconomic status and multiple testing.
Results: Our longitudinal analyses showed that higher residential green space at baseline was associated with (β=0.261, p=0.002) lower telomere attrition and that children with a higher waist circumference at baseline showed a higher telomere attrition (β=-0.287, p=0.001). These two predictors were confirmed via LASSO variable selection and correction for multiple testing. In addition, children with more unhealthy exposures at baseline had a significantly higher telomere attrition over the follow-up period compared to children with more healthy exposures (β=-0.200, p=0.017).
Discussion: Waist circumference and residential green space were identified as predictors associated with telomere attrition in childhood. These results further support the advantages of a healthy lifestyle from early age onwards and the importance of a green environment to promote molecular longevity from childhood onwards.
Keywords: Child; Diet; Exposome; Lifestyle; Longitudinal; Residential green space; Telomeres.
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