A Test of Biological and Behavioral Explanations for Gender Differences in Telomere Length

The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis

Published In: Biodemography and Social Biology, v. 60, no. 2, Oct. 2014, p. 156-173

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2014

by Belinda L. Needham, Ana Ana Diez Roux, Chloe E. Bird, Ryan Bradley, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, David R. Jacobs, Pamela Ouyang, Teresa E. Seeman, Rebecca C. Thurston, Dhananjay Vaidya, Steven Wang

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The purpose of this study was to examine biological and behavioral explanations for gender differences in leukocyte telomere length (LTL), a biomarker of cell aging that has been hypothesized to contribute to women's greater longevity. Data are from a subsample (n = 851) of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a population-based study of women and men aged 45 to 84. Mediation models were used to examine study hypotheses. We found that women had longer LTL than men, but the gender difference was smaller at older ages. Gender differences in smoking and processed meat consumption partially mediated gender differences in telomere length, whereas gender differences in estradiol, total testosterone, oxidative stress, and body mass index did not. Neither behavioral nor biological factors explained why the gender difference in LTL was smaller at older ages. Longitudinal studies are needed to assess gender differences in the rate of change in LTL over time; to identify the biological, behavioral, and psychosocial factors that contribute to these differences throughout the life course; and to determine whether gender differences in LTL explain the gender gap in longevity.

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