Greenspace and Telomere Length

We received a pilot project grant for $36,000 to investigate the relationship between greenspace and telomere length in the NHANES data. I led the conceptualization, writing, and submittal of this project to the Center for Human Health and the Environment at NC State. Along with Dr. Aaron Hipp, Dr. David Reif, and Dr. Lin Yang we will be looking at what can be learned about how our environment influences health at the level of DNA.

Project Description

Greenspaces, composed of vegetation such as lawns, street trees, and parks, are associated with a variety of benefits to mental and physical health. The effect of green, vegetated landscapes on human health has been investigated from the level of specific health behaviors and outcomes, self-reported measures of well being, and quality of life, but little work has been able to identify biological mechanisms behind these associations. Our proposed project will investigate a pathway that greenspace environments might influence health at the cellular level, through the preservation of telomere length. Telomeres are structures on the ends of DNA and play a role in cell regeneration and aging. The length of telomeres can be impacted by stressors in the environment and could be an epigenetic factor in disease and individual health. Greenspace is an environmental condition that varies across residential areas and could influence telomere length through stress regulation, physical activity opportunities, air quality improvements, or other impacts. Little research has been done on the relationship that environmental greenspace may have on telomere length, and therefore disease, cellular health, and aging. This project will use data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to establish an initial investigation of the relationship. NHANES 1999-2002 collected biospecimens from which telomere length was determined for approximately 7,500 individuals. Using the extensive examination and laboratory data from NHANES combined with time-matched environmental data on greenspace exposure from satellite imagery, this study will serve as a pilot project to investigate the association of the greenspace environment and telomere length. Participant residential geolocation is restricted in the NHANES data, but is available from the National Center for Health Statistics Research Data Centers. Accessing this location data will allow for measurement of local greenspace exposure to combine with available NHANES data on telomere length and covariates to facilitate analysis. Findings of this retrospective study will inform the research gaps and aims to submit an NIH R01 or R21 focused on the effects of environmental greenspace on public health and telomere length. The pilot study will serve as a means of revealing potential questions and causal mechanisms to inform a future study as well as provide new cross-university collaborations between Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management and Biological Sciences.

Scott Ogletree
Scott Ogletree
Research Fellow