Obesity and smoking are important risk factors for many age-related diseases. Both are states of heightened oxidative stress, which increases the rate of telomere erosion per replication, and inflammation, which enhances white blood cell turnover. Together, these processes might accelerate telomere erosion with age. We therefore tested the hypothesis that increased body mass and smoking are associated with shortened telomere length in white blood cells. We investigated 1122 white women aged 18-76 years and found that telomere length decreased steadily with age at a mean rate of 27 bp per year. Telomeres of obese women were 240 bp shorter than those of lean women (p=0.026). A dose-dependent relation with smoking was recorded (p=0.017), and each pack-year smoked was equivalent to an additional 5 bp of telomere length lost (18%) compared with the rate in the overall cohort. Our results emphasise the pro-ageing effects of obesity and cigarette smoking.
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