Discrimination and telomere length among older adults in the United States: Does the association vary by race and type of discrimination?

Sze Yan Liu, Ichiro Kawachi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Objectives: Chronic stress from experiencing discrimination can lead to long-term changes in psychological and physiologic responses, including shorter leukocyte telomere length. We examined the association between leukocyte telomere length and variations in the association by race or type of discrimination. Methods: Our study consisted of 3868 US-born non-Hispanic black (hereinafter, black) and non-Hispanic white (hereinafter, white) adult participants from the 2008 Health and Retirement Study biomarker sample with complete sociodemographic and discrimination information. We examined major lifetime unfair treatment and everyday discrimination. Coarsened exact matching matched exposed and unexposed participants on several sociodemographic factors. Coarsened exact matching creates analytic weights for the matched data sets. We applied weighted linear regression to the matched data sets. We conducted 2 subanalyses in which we matched on potential mediators-physical activity, smoking status, and obesity-and examined if racism was associated with shorter telomere length compared with other attributes. All analyses were stratified by race. Results: We found no difference in telomere length for black and white participants reporting major lifetime unfair treatment (β = 0.09; 95% CI, -0.33 to 0.15) or everyday discrimination (β = 0.04; 95% CI, -0.12 to 0.40). Everyday discrimination was associated with shorter leukocyte telomere length among black people (β = -0.23; 95% CI, -0.44 to -0.01) but not among white people (β = 0.05; 95% CI, -0.01 to 0.10). Matching on potential mediators generally decreased the effect estimate among black people. Conclusions: Experiencing everyday discrimination was associated with shortened telomere length among older black adults. Further research is needed to understand the adverse physiologic effects of discrimination to create effective interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-230
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Reports
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • Aging
  • Discrimination
  • Racial disparities


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