Discrimination, Racial Bias, and Telomere Length in African-American Men


      Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is an indicator of general systemic aging, with shorter LTL being associated with several chronic diseases of aging and earlier mortality. Identifying factors related to LTL among African Americans may yield insights into mechanisms underlying racial disparities in health.


      To test whether the combination of more frequent reports of racial discrimination and holding a greater implicit anti-black racial bias is associated with shorter LTL among African-American men.


      Cross-sectional study of a community sample of 92 African-American men aged between 30 and 50 years. Participants were recruited from February to May 2010. Ordinary least squares regressions were used to examine LTL in kilobase pairs in relation to racial discrimination and implicit racial bias. Data analysis was completed in July 2013.


      After controlling for chronologic age and socioeconomic and health-related characteristics, the interaction between racial discrimination and implicit racial bias was significantly associated with LTL (b=−0.10, SE=0.04, p=0.02). Those demonstrating a stronger implicit anti-black bias and reporting higher levels of racial discrimination had the shortest LTL. Household income-to-poverty threshold ratio was also associated with LTL (b=0.05, SE=0.02, p<0.01).


      Results suggest that multiple levels of racism, including interpersonal experiences of racial discrimination and the internalization of negative racial bias, operate jointly to accelerate biological aging among African-American men. Societal efforts to address racial discrimination in concert with efforts to promote positive in-group racial attitudes may protect against premature biological aging in this population.
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