Aging faster in adulthood linked to health conditions in adolescence

Aging faster in adulthood linked to health conditions in adolescence

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People who were obese, smoked daily or had a psychological disorder diagnosis during their adolescence years could age faster than their peers, according to researchers

In a study published at the end of last month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, a group of international authors analyzed data from 910 participants of the New Zealand Dunedin study. 

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The study tracked the health and behavior of residents of Dunedin, New Zealand who were born between April 1972 and March 1973, following the individuals from ages 3 to 45.

The assessment later in life found at least one adolescent health condition and an outcome measure, including the pace of aging, gait speed, brain age and facial age. 

Data analysis was performed from Feb. 11, 2021 to Sept. 27, 2021.

Asthma, cigarette smoking, obesity and psychological disorders were assessed at ages 11, 13 and 15. 

According to the aging factor composite score, compared with those without those conditions, adolescents who smoked daily, were obese or had a psychological disorder diagnosis were biologically older at midlife.

It was not the case for adolescents with asthma – which the group noted was in contrast to proposals from previous studies.

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Those with two or more comorbidities  were biologically older than those without any health conditions 

Secondary analyses found that those with more health conditions had a faster pace of aging slower gait speed, older brain age and older facial age at midlife and aged nearly three months faster every year compared with participants who had none of the health conditions. They also walked 11.2 centimeters per second slower, had an older brain age by two-and-a-half years and had an older facial age by nearly four years than those who did not.

The study’s authors measured the pace of aging with repeated assessments of body mass index (BMI), waist to hip ratio, blood tests, hormones for regulating appetite and fat storage, blood pressure, cholesterol, tooth decay, cardiorespiratory fitness and brain MRIs.

Asthma status was assessed using standardized interviews of participants by pulmonary specialists. Smoking status was assessed using self-reported cigarette smoking from in-person interviews.

The researchers also concluded that these conditions could be treated during adolescence to reduce the risk of accelerated biological aging later in life.

“Treating these modifiable pediatric health conditions could prevent the accumulation of chronic disease, development of disability, and risk of early death in adulthood by reducing the risk of accelerated biological aging,” they concluded. 

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Limitations to the study include that the participants were predominantly White, other health conditions could also be relevant to midlife age and that the Dunedin Study was observational.

The authors noted that future research is necessary to ascertain whether the observed associations with accelerated aging are reversible through treatment.