Grandpa’s obesity will run through generations: Study

According to a new study, a father’s metabolic health obesity legacy can be passed from generation to generation, affecting not only his children, but also his grandchildren.

Scientists at Sydney’s Victor Chang Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have discovered that male mice who are obese when they conceive are putting their children and grandchildren at significant risk of developing metabolic disease, long before they are even born.

The lead author and Associate Professor Catherine Suter from the Victor Chang Institute believes that the discovery could have immediate ramifications for the public’s health.

“A baby’s health has long been considered the mother’s responsibility as soon as she falls pregnant. But little attention has been paid to how a father’s health might impact his unborn child. Now, we’ve found powerful evidence, in a mouse model, that dad’s nutrition and metabolic health can influence his sons, and even his grandsons,” said Catherine Suter.

He added, “We looked at the effect of dad’s obesity across three generations. At first his offspring appeared to be in good metabolic health. But when they consumed a high-fat, high sugar, junk food diet, all the sons reacted dramatically and within just a few weeks they developed fatty liver disease and pre-diabetic symptoms, such as elevated glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.”

The researchers also found that that the grandsons of the obese mice were also predisposed to metabolic disorders, just as their fathers were. Importantly, this predisposition was transmitted to the grandsons even if their fathers ate well and were metabolically well at the time of conception.

Professor Mark Febbraio from Garvan is urging Australians to consider the lasting legacy of a poor diet on future generations.

“It’s important that we inform people of the implications of this study and possible risks so they can start making lifestyle changes now. If your father or grandfather was overweight or obese, you might need to be particularly careful about what you choose to eat,” said Professor Febbraio.

“You can’t treat your body like a rental car – otherwise you run the risk of propagating this for generations. And, as a father-to-be, it’s worth considering whether your own health could impact on your children, and their children in turn,” he added.

The research is published in journal Molecular Metabolism.