Occup Environ Med 70:552-560 doi:10.1136/oemed-2012-101296
  • Workplace
  • Original article

Current employment status, occupational category, occupational hazard exposure and job stress in relation to telomere length: the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

  1. Teresa Seeman5
  1. 1Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  3. 3Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York, USA
  4. 4Department of Pathology, University of Vermont, Colchester, Vermont, USA
  5. 5Department of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kaori Fujishiro, Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 4676 Columbia Pkwy (R-15), Cincinnati OH 45226, USA; kfujishiro{at}
  • Received 27 November 2012
  • Revised 5 April 2013
  • Accepted 22 April 2013
  • Published Online First 18 May 2013


Objective Telomere length has been proposed as a biomarker of cell senescence, which is associated with a wide array of adverse health outcomes. While work is a major determinant of health, few studies have investigated the association of telomere length with various dimensions of occupation. Accelerated cellular aging could be a common pathway linking occupational exposure to several health outcomes.

Methods Leukocyte telomere length was assessed using quantitative PCR in a community-based sample of 981 individuals (age: 45–84 years). Questionnaires were used to collect information on current employment status, current or main occupation before retirement and job strain. The Occupational Resource Network (O*NET) database was linked to the questionnaire data to create five exposure measures: physical activity on the job, physical hazard exposure, interpersonal stressors, job control and job demands. Linear regression was used to estimate associations of occupational characteristics with telomere lengths after adjustment for age, sex, race, socioeconomic position and several behavioural risk factors.

Results There were no mean differences in telomere lengths across current employment status, occupational category, job strain categories or levels of most O*NET exposure measures. There was also no evidence that being in lower status occupational categories or being exposed to higher levels of adverse physical or psychosocial exposures accelerated the association between age and telomere shortening.

Conclusions Cellular aging as reflected by shorter telomeres does not appear to be an important pathway linking occupation to various health outcomes.

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