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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington: Height and Weight Gain in Early Life May Turn the Clock on “Biological Age”

The rate and age at which babies gain height and weight may impact their later risk of age-related diseases, according to a new study led by a University of Washington researcher. The study looked at how patterns of early childhood growth affected the length of the telomeres, protective strands of DNA at the end of the chromosomes, of more than 1,500 Filipino adults. Results were published July 7 in the American Journal of Human Biology.

“We generally think aging is about years, but the telomere length offers a different way to understand aging in terms of biology,” said lead author Dr. Erin Masterson, an epidemiologist from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Telomeres can act like a bridge between early life experiences and later-life health outcomes, according to Dr. Masterson. The length of telomeres decreases as people age because every time cells divide, a little bit of the DNA in the telomere cap is lost. Past studies have found people with longer telomeres have lower risks of diabetes and certain cardiovascular diseases, although the trend is not universal.

“There might be a critical period of growth that has a strong influence on adult telomere length. That should be considered in public health infrastructure and policy,” Dr. Masterson said. Identifying these periods of development could have important implications for nutritional advising and resource allocation, especially in regions like Cebu, in the Philippines, with high rates of childhood malnutrition.

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