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Study Finds Obese Mice Fathers Have Babies with Higher Body Fat Levels

Update Date: Jun 17, 2013 11:59 AM EDT
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Research looking into the effects that a father's health might have on an unborn child have found several new relationships. One study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a father's history of stress could cause changes in his sperm, resulting in children who are less sensitive to stress, which could make adapting to different situations more difficult. Another study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics found that the older a man is when he chooses to reproduce, the more likely his children will have an inherited disease. Now, a new study done on mouse models found that obese male mice fathered offspring with higher levels of body fat, suggesting that obesity could be transferred via father and child.

The new study conducted by Ohio University researchers experimented on male mice that were given a high-fat diet for 13 weeks. Once the mice were obese, the researchers had them reproduce offspring with female mice that were fed a low-fat diet. The researchers studied the offspring at 20 days, six weeks and then at six and 12 months. The researchers found that their offspring, particularly the male babies, had higher levels of body fat even though they were all fed a low-fat diet. The team also found that the offspring of an obese father were more likely to be obese by the time they reached six months or one year.

"We've identified a number of traits that may affect metabolism and behavior of offspring dependent on the pre-conception diet of the father," the lead author, Felicia Nowak said reported by Medical Xpress. Nowak is an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The researchers stated that their findings could be explained via epigenetics, which is the study of how genes are expressed. The researchers believe that since gene expression is affected by environmental and lifestyle variables, obese men could be directly affecting the health of their children. This means that preventative measures could be taken as well. If men were more active about addressing their own health concerns, they would not only be extending their own lives, but also potentially protecting their unborn children's lives as well.

Despite finding that obesity could negatively impact unborn children, the researchers stated that the offspring of the obese male mice were ironically more likely to be physically activity. The researchers recorded that at six months and a year, the offspring reared by an obese father voluntarily ran more. The researchers plan on studying the genes that could be responsible for these physiological and behavioral changes.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Francisco, CA. 

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