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Shorter telomeres are associated with obesity and weight gain in the elderly



Obesity and shorter telomeres are commonly associated with elevated risk for age-related diseases and mortality. Whether telomere length (TL) may be associated with obesity or variations in adiposity is not well established. Therefore, we set out to test the hypothesis that TL may be a risk factor for increased adiposity using data from a large population-based cohort study.


Levels of adiposity were assessed in six ways (obesity status, body mass index (BMI), the percentage of body fat or % body fat, leptin, visceral and subcutaneous fat mass) in 2721 elderly subjects (42% black and 58% white). Associations between TL measured in leukocytes at baseline and adiposity traits measured at baseline, and three of these traits after 7 years of follow-up were tested using regression models adjusting for important covariates. Additionally, we look at weight changes and relative changes in BMI and % body fat between baseline and follow-up.


At baseline, TL was negatively associated with % body fat (ß=−0.35±0.09, P=0.001) and subcutaneous fat (ß=−2.66±1.07, P=0.01), and positively associated with leptin after adjusting for % body fat (ß=0.32±0.14, P=0.001), but not with obesity, BMI or visceral fat. Prospective analyses showed that longer TL was associated with positive percent change between baseline and 7-year follow-up for both BMI (ß=0.48±0.20, P=0.01) and % body fat (ß=0.42±0.23, P=0.05).


Our study suggests that shorter TL may be a risk factor for increased adiposity. Coupling with previous reports on their reversed roles, the relationship between adiposity and TL may be complicated and may warrant more prospective studies.

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This study was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Aging, NIH contracts (N01-AG-6-2101, N01-AG-6-2103 and N01-AG-6-2106) and grants (K01 AG022782 and R01 AG023692). Dr OT Njajou is supported by the Training in Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology of Cancer, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute grant (R25 CA112355).

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Correspondence to W-C Hsueh.

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Njajou, O., Cawthon, R., Blackburn, E. et al. Shorter telomeres are associated with obesity and weight gain in the elderly. Int J Obes 36, 1176–1179 (2012).

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  • telomere length
  • adiposity
  • telomeres
  • aging

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