Telomeres’ obesity connection

Longer telomeres in children linked to exercise and healthy diet

2024 Issue 1 Upfront Autoimmunity

A genetic marker linked to premature aging -— shortened telomeres — reversed in obese children during a diet and exercise program, according to a study published Oct. 23, 2023, in Pediatric Obesity.

Like the solid segment at the end of a shoelace, telomeres are protective caps that prevent a chromosome’s ends  from fraying. They tend to gradually shorten with aging, but various conditions, including obesity, cause them to shorten prematurely.

In the study, the researchers followed 158 children, all of whom were 8 to 12 years old and obese. From baseline to the end of the weight-management program, the children’s average telomere length increased significantly. It shortened again in the year after the program ended.

The study’s results may help explain the basis of the biological benefits of losing weight, eating healthier and being more physically active.

“We saw that the recommended behaviors everyone knows about — eating fewer high-fat or high-sugar foods and fewer calories, increasing physical activity, and reducing screen time — can slow down biological aging associated with obesity in children,” said the study’s senior author, Thomas Robinson, MD, who is the Irving Schulman, MD, Professor in Child Health.

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Erin Digitale

Erin Digitale is the pediatrics senior science writer in the Office of Communications. Email her at

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