An obese father increases the risk of his children and grandchildren becoming obese, even if they follow a healthy diet. That’s the implication of a series of mouse studies conducted at the University of Adelaide.
The researchers found that a father’s high-fat diet could change the molecular make-up of his sperm, leading to obesity and diabetes-like symptoms in two generations of offspring.
“With obese fathers, changes in the sperm’s microRNA molecules are linked with programming the embryo for obesity or metabolic disease later in life,” says Tod Fullston, the study’s lead author and an NHMRC Peter Doherty Fellow with the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute.
Compared with control-fed mice, male mice fed a 10-week high-fat diet passed on a higher rate of metabolic disorders, including obesity, to their children and grandchildren. The effect was seen even though all the mice, apart from the original test father mice, were fed a healthy control diet.
However, the transmission of obesity, insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance to each generation was sex-specific. In the first generation, the females predominantly inherited obesity while both sexes inherited the metabolic defects.
First generation males then transmitted obesity and insulin resistance to their daughters and first generation females transmitted obesity and impaired metabolic health to their sons.
“If our laboratory studies are translatable to humans, this could be a new intervention window into the epidemic of childhood obesity,” says Tod.