Fathers who overeat can pass on health problems to their unborn children

The International Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

It’s a case of the eating sins of fathers being carried by their children.

The amount of food eaten by fathers could have a direct impact on their unborn children’s health and well being, according to researchers at RMIT University.

The study, using rats, suggests a dad’s diet leading up to conception can be genetically passed onto the next generation, with a subsequent impact on health.

While the diet of mothers and the impact on children has been widely researched, this study is believed to be the first to look at the behavioural and hormonal effects of the male diet on offspring.

“The results suggest that the diet of one generation may affect the next,” says Antonio Paolini, who led the study.

“Even though the fathers had no contact with their offspring and the mother’s behaviour remained relatively unchanged, the offspring of the food-limited rats were lighter, ate less and showed less evidence of anxiety.

“When you see the lower levels of anxiety as a result of reduced diet crossing generations, it raises alarm bells for the long-term potential health consequences of a society with rising levels of obesity.”

Paolini says reduced calories may sharpen survival instincts, making animals less anxious and more adventurous in the way they explore their environment.

“This makes it important for both mothers and fathers to consider their environment and things such as diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, before conceiving,” he says.

The research, funded by Jim’s Group Pty Ltd, the franchise business, will be published in the international scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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