A test of biological and behavioral explanations for gender differences in telomere length: The multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis

Belinda L. Needham, Ana V. 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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


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 womens 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-173
Number of pages18
JournalBiodemography and Social Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 3 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MESA was supported by contracts N01-HC-95159 through N01-HC-95169 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and by grants UL1-RR-024156 and UL1-RR-025005 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). This work was also supported by grants R01-HL-076831 and R01-HL-101161 from NHLBI (PI: Ana Diez Roux), grant R01-HL-074406 from NHLBI (PI: Pamela Ouyang), grant R01-HL-074338 from NHLBI (PI: Susan Gapstur), and grant UL1-RR-02501401 from NCRR (PI: Mary Disis). The authors thank the other investigators, the staff, and the participants of the MESA study for their valuable contributions. A full list of participating MESA investigators and institutions can be found at http://www.mesa-nhlbi.org.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2014 Society for Biodemography and Social Biology.


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