© 2015 The Authors. Aging Cell published by the Anatomical Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Telomere length shortens with aging, and short telomeres have been linked to a wide variety of pathologies. Previous studies suggested a discrepancy in age-associated telomere shortening rate estimated by cross-sectional studies versus the rate measured in longitudinal studies, indicating a potential bias in cross-sectional estimates. Intergenerational changes in initial telomere length, such as that predicted by the previously described effect of a father's age at birth of his offspring (FAB), could explain the discrepancy in shortening rate measurements. We evaluated whether changes occur in initial telomere length over multiple generations in three large datasets and identified paternal birth year (PBY) as a variable that reconciles the difference between longitudinal and cross-sectional measurements. We also clarify the association between FAB and offspring telomere length, demonstrating that this effect is substantially larger than reported in the past. These results indicate the presence of a downward secular trend in telomere length at birth over generational time with potential public health implications.