Grandfathers can pass on obesity risk to grandchildren
Being obese not only affects your own health, but can also have an impact on the health of your children and grandchildren, according to research recently accepted by the journal Molecular Metabolism.
Scientists from Sydney’s Victor Chang Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have together discovered that as well as putting their own health at risk, obese male mice are also increasing their children’s and grandchildren’s risk of developing disease before they are even born.
After looking at the effect of the father’s obesity across three generations of mice, the team found that although the father’s offspring at first appeared to be in good health, just weeks after consuming a high-fat and high-sugar junk food diet the mice developed fatty liver disease and symptoms of pre-diabetes, such as elevated levels of glucose and insulin, when compared to a control group.
The results suggest that, just like their fathers, these mice were predisposed to developing these metabolic disorders.
In addition, the team also found that this predisposition was also passed onto the grandsons of the mice, even if their own fathers ate healthily and were in good health at the time of conception.
The results are an important discovery in understanding obesity, with previous thinking placing emphasis on the mother’s responsibility for a baby’s health. However studies are increasing looking at the influence of fathers’ health, grandmothers’ and now grandfathers’ health, on the health of offspring.
Commenting on the significance of the results, lead author on the study, Associate Professor Catherine Suter from the Victor Chang Institute, said, “We were shocked when we saw the results, which were absolutely black and white. The grandchildren are at significant risk of getting very sick if they eat a ‘junk food diet’ — even when their father eats well and is healthy. The effects of the diet on offspring are dramatic, even when they eat poorly for just for a short time, all because their grandfather was obese.”
However there is some good news, with the team also finding that metabolic health in the grandsons could be improved.
“By the third generation, the exaggerated response to a junk food diet was all but absent,” commented Professor Suter, “What this shows is that it’s possible to break that cycle of metabolic disease. It’s crucial to note that this predisposition isn’t genetic. Instead, it’s acquired. That means the damage can be undone and is ultimately reversible.”
Professor Mark Febbraio from Garvan now believes the findings should be used to encourage Australians to think about the long lasting effects of their poor diet and health, commenting that, “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.”