Obese Dads May Pass on Metabolic Conditions

obese_father_weightObese fathers may be passing on more than their eye color and dimples to their children; a new study in mice showed that obese fathers often pass on their oversized waistlines, and metabolic conditions as well.  The study involved two groups of male mice. One group was given a high-fat diet, similar to what we’d consider a “fast food diet” and the other group was fed a healthy control diet. When compared to the control group, the “fast food” group gained weight and became obese, but without any indications of diabetes. The two groups of male mice were then mated to normal weight control diet-fed females to produce first generation mice, which were also mated to normal weight control diet-fed mice to produce the second generation.

The researchers found that both generations of offspring suffered from obesity and metabolic disorders, with the only difference being their father’s/grandfather’s diet.  By examining small RNA molecules (called microRNAs) in the mice’s sperm, they found that changes in these microRNAs might be partially to blame for the transmission of these conditions from father to children/grandchildren. This finding suggests that diet may change the molecular makeup of sperm, which then affects embryos and their risk of metabolic and reproductive health problems.

Dr. Barry Greene, expert bariatric surgeon in Maryland, commented on the study. He said, “A family history of obesity is well known to be related to obesity in the next generation. This study adds to our understanding of how obesity is passed from generation to generation.  Micro RNAs have been studied for their involvement in a multitude of cellular functions including the cause of some cancers, diabetes and the production of fat cells. This work questions whether a father’s diet at the time of conception may genetically affect the children.   While this study points to the pure genetic transmission of obesity, other studies have pointed to the effect of a high carbohydrate and fat diet on the expression of our genes. Specifically, the number of fat cells can be changed by our diet.  All of the current research clearly shows that a high carbohydrate and fat diet during the adolescent years will result in epidemic of obesity.”

Another recent study supports the possibility of a man’s diet affecting sperm. It found that a diet high in saturated fats—which is typical of a “fast food diet” leads to lower sperm count. The Danish study showed that men who consumed the most saturated fat had a 38% lower concentration of sperm and 41% lower sperm counts than those who ate the least saturated fat.  Other research has shown that male obesity can result in lower rates of conception, smaller fetuses, and reduced placental weight and development. Although research is still early, the findings of these studies highlight the importance of men maintaining a healthy weight to promote optimal results in procreation.

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