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South Australian research has found that the sperm of obese men may pass on the risk of obesity and diabetes for two generations.
Laboratory studies at the University of Adelaide found that molecular signals in the sperm of obese men can lead to obesity and diabetes symptoms in the men's children and grandchildren - despite the offspring eating healthily.
"A father's diet changes the molecular makeup of the sperm," said Dr Tod Fullson, the lead author of the paper. "With obese fathers, the changes in their sperm - in their microRNA molecules - might program the embryo for obesity or metabolic disease later in life."
"For female offspring, there is an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. What we've also found is that there is an increased chance of both male and female offspring developing metabolic disease similar to type 2 diabetes.
Dr Fullson said this is the first report of both male and female offspring inheriting metabolic disease due to the father's obesity.
According to the study, which was published in The FASEB Journal, the second generation of descendants also showed signs of obesity and metabolic disorders - although not as severe as the first generation.
Dr Fullston said that even if the obese father did not show any signs of diabetes, metabolic diseases similar to diabetes were still seen in their children and grandchildren.
"It's been known for some time that the health of a mother before, during and after pregnancy can impact on her child's health, but the father's health during this period is often overlooked," Dr Fullston said.
"A focus on the mother's health is extremely important, but we're seeing that the father's health is also important for conception. It's possible that by showing additional attention to diet and exercise in the father, this could have a positive impact on his future children and grandchildren."
Image Credit: Iqbal Osman