Telomere length is emerging as a potential factor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease. We investigated whether birth weight, infant growth, childhood cognition and adult height, as well as a range of lifestyle, socio-economic and educational factors, were associated with white blood cell telomere length at age 49–51 years.
The study included 318 members of the Newcastle Thousand Families Study, a prospectively followed birth cohort which includes all individuals born in Newcastle, England in May and June 1947, who attended for clinical examination at age 49–51 years, and had telomere length successfully measured using real-time PCR analyses of DNA extracted from peripheral blood mononuclear cells.
No association was found between birth weight and later telomere length. However, associations were seen with other factors from early life. Education level was the only predictor in males, while telomere length in females was associated with gestational age at birth, childhood growth and childhood IQ.
While these findings may be due to chance, in particular where differing associations were seen between males and females, they do provide evidence of early life associations with telomere length much later in life. Our findings of sex differences in the education association may reflect the sex differences in achieved education levels in this generation where few women went to university regardless of their intelligence. Our findings do not support the concept of telomere length being on the pathway between very early growth and later disease risk.