Contributions of neighborhood social environment and air pollution exposure to Black-White disparities in epigenetic aging

PLoS One. 2023 Jul 5;18(7):e0287112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0287112. eCollection 2023.


Racial disparities in many aging-related health outcomes are persistent and pervasive among older Americans, reflecting accelerated biological aging for Black Americans compared to White, known as weathering. Environmental determinants that contribute to weathering are poorly understood. Having a higher biological age, measured by DNA methylation (DNAm), than chronological age is robustly associated with worse age-related outcomes and higher social adversity. We hypothesize that individual socioeconomic status (SES), neighborhood social environment, and air pollution exposures contribute to racial disparities in DNAm aging according to GrimAge and Dunedin Pace of Aging methylation (DPoAm). We perform retrospective cross-sectional analyses among 2,960 non-Hispanic participants (82% White, 18% Black) in the Health and Retirement Study whose 2016 DNAm age is linked to survey responses and geographic data. DNAm aging is defined as the residual after regressing DNAm age on chronological age. We observe Black individuals have significantly accelerated DNAm aging on average compared to White individuals according to GrimAge (239%) and DPoAm (238%). We implement multivariable linear regression models and threefold decomposition to identify exposures that contribute to this disparity. Exposure measures include individual-level SES, census-tract-level socioeconomic deprivation and air pollution (fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone), and perceived neighborhood social and physical disorder. Race and gender are included as covariates. Regression and decomposition results show that individual-level SES is strongly associated with and accounts for a large portion of the disparity in both GrimAge and DPoAm aging. Higher neighborhood deprivation for Black participants significantly contributes to the disparity in GrimAge aging. Black participants are more vulnerable to fine particulate matter exposure for DPoAm, perhaps due to individual- and neighborhood-level SES, which may contribute to the disparity in DPoAm aging. DNAm aging may play a role in the environment "getting under the skin", contributing to age-related health disparities between older Black and White Americans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging* / genetics
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Black or African American* / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Environment
  • United States
  • White* / genetics


  • Particulate Matter