Examining the Cross-sectional Association Between Neighborhood Conditions, Discrimination, and Telomere Length in a Predominantly African American Sample

Published in: Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2023). doi: 10.1007/s40615-022-01490-5

Posted on RAND.org on January 10, 2023

by Wendy M. Troxel, Jaime Madrigano, Ann C. Haas, Tamara Dubowitz, Andrea L. Russo, Aric A. Prather, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Andrea M. Weinstein, Meryl Butters, Albert Presto, et al.

Disproportionate exposure to adverse neighborhood conditions and greater discrimination may contribute to health disparities among African Americans (AAs). We examined whether adverse neighborhood conditions, alone or in conjunction with discrimination, associate with shorter leukocyte telomere length among a predominantly AA cohort. The sample included 200 residents from two low-income neighborhoods (96% AA; mean age = 67 years). Perceived neighborhood conditions and discrimination were surveyed in 2018, and objective neighborhood conditions (total crime rate, neighborhood walkability, ambient air pollution (PM2.5, black carbon)) were collected in 2017/2018. Relative telomere length (T/S; ratio of telomeric DNA to a single-gene copy) was assessed from blood samples. Linear regression models estimated the main effects of each neighborhood condition and discrimination and their interactions on the T/S ratio. Less walkable neighborhoods were associated with shorter telomeres. Higher air pollution (PM2.5) was associated with shorter telomeres among those experiencing greater discrimination. Findings highlight the importance of understanding the intersecting influences of historic and contemporary sources of systemic racism and how they contribute to accelerated aging among adults.

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