The Link Between Discrimination and Telomere Length in African American Adults

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Objective: Prior work shows that discrimination is associated with a wide array of negative health outcomes. However, the biological mechanisms through which this link occurs require more study. We evaluated the association between discrimination and leukocyte telomere length (LTL; a biological marker of systemic aging). Method: Cross-sectional data were from the Health and Retirement study, a study of people aged 51+ in the United States, and included 595 African American males and females. Multiple regression analyses were used to evaluate whether discrimination was independently associated with LTL. We also considered the role of potential confounders including sociodemographic factors, health factors, depressive symptoms, and stress. Results: High discrimination was associated with shorter LTL after controlling for sociodemographic factors (b = −.034, SE = 0.14, p = .017). This association persisted in analyses that further adjusted for health factors, depressive symptoms, and stress. Conclusion: Results suggest that discrimination experiences accelerate biological aging in older African American males and females, alike. This finding helps advance our understanding of how discrimination generates greater disease vulnerability and premature death in African Americans.

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