Overweight or obese men hoping to father a child one day have one more reason to lose weight: their children and grandchildren could inherit their metabolic health problems. According to scientists at the Victor Chang Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, although their study involved mice, this could have huge implications to human health.

The risk is already present even before the child is born, the researchers suggest. The research team found that the offsprings of fathers who ate junk foods high in fat and sugar developed fatty liver disease and pre-diabetic symptoms like increased blood levels of glucose and insulin. Moreover, overweight and obese men also pass on their health problems to their grandchildren.

“We were shocked when we saw the results, which were absolutely black and white,” says the study’s lead author Catherine Suter, an associate professor at Victor Chang. “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 offsprings are dramatic, even when they eat poorly for just a short time, all because their grandfather was obese.”

obese men

Overweight and obese men can pass on their health problems to their children and grandchildren. Credit: Adventist Hinsdale Hospital

As 14 million Australians are now overweight or obese, Mark Febbraio, Garvan’s professor, insists on the education of people about the consequences of poor diet to their children and grandchildren. Febbraio suggests doing some lifestyle changes now.

However, the team asserts that this predisposition is not genetic. They found that the cycle of metabolic disease can be broken and the damage that began from the father is reversible.

Still, they admit that further research is needed. As of now, they cannot explain how this multigenerational programming works exactly but they speculate that studying the sperm can shed light into this.

The researchers are currently studying how alteration in RNA molecules in the mice’s sperm can help cause this health problem. The study will be published in the journal Molecular Metabolism.