Telomere shortening and accelerated aging in US military veterans

Jeffrey T. Howard*, Jud C. Janak, Alexis R. Santos-Lozada, Sarah McEvilla, Stephanie D. Ansley, Lauren E. Walker, Avron Spiro, Ian J. Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


A growing body of literature on military personnel and veterans’ health suggests that prior military service may be associated with exposures that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which may differ by race/ethnicity. This study examined the hypothesis that differential telomere shortening, a measure of cellular aging, by race/ethnicity may explain prior findings of differential CVD risk in racial/ethnic groups with military service. Data from the first two continuous waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), administered from 1999–2002 were analyzed. Mean telomere length in base pairs was analyzed with multivaria-ble adjusted linear regression with complex sample design, stratified by sex. The unadjusted mean telomere length was 225.8 base shorter for individuals with prior military service. The mean telo-mere length for men was 47.2 (95% CI: −92.9, −1.5; p < 0.05) base pairs shorter for men with military service after adjustment for demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral variables, but did not differ significantly in women with and without prior military service. The interaction between military service and race/ethnicity was not significant for men or women. The results suggest that military service may contribute to accelerated aging as a result of health damaging exposures, such as com-bat, injury, and environmental contaminants, though other unmeasured confounders could also potentially explain the results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1743
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Accelerated aging
  • Telomeres
  • Veteran’s health


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