Looking forward to a healthy, miniature you? Then keep your diet and weight in check before trying for a baby. A new study reveals that offspring of male mice which became obese following consumption of a high-fat diet were more susceptible to have a higher body weight and increased body fat later in life.

These effects were mainly observed in male offspring although they were kept on a low-fat diet, the Ohio University scientists reported.

“We found that the father’s diet also affects the offspring in ways that are inherited,” stated study lead author, Felicia Nowak. The reporters explain that these hereditary traits are probably due to epigenetics — changes in gene expression which, unlike DNA mutations, are not “hard-wired into the genes”.

Novak noted that “the cause of these changes was not behavioural because the offspring did not observe what their fathers ate nor did they have access to a high-fat diet.”

Predisposition to high body fat implies higher risks of diseases

In 2010, other researchers linked paternal diet and weight at the time of conception to an increased risk of diabetes. They found that a high fat diet which induces paternal obesity also lead to impaired glucose tolerance and insulin secretion in the offspring.

And as you probably know, several studies have associated excess body fat with a host of complications including heart diseases, renal failure and certain types of cancer.

Study overview

The scientists fed male mice either a high-fat or a low-fat diet (45% vs. 10% of total calories from fat) for 13 weeks. Both groups consumed the same number of calories. All the mice were then mated with females fed a matched low-fat diet.

The resulting mouse pups were given a standard low-fat diet and studied at 20 days right after weaning, six weeks and at six and 12 months. In humans, according to the researchers, these four intervals correspond to infancy, adolescence, young adulthood and older adulthood, respectively.

The findings

Compared with pups of mice kept on a low-fat diet, the male offspring of fathers with diet-induced obesity had higher body weight as from 6 weeks of age. They were also heavier at the six- and 12-month study markers. Moreover, the obese fathers’ male pups had a higher percentage of total body fat. The amount of brown adipose tissue, the calorie-burning fat found in both humans and rodents, was similar in both groups.

The researchers also observed that the male offspring of obese fathers voluntarily ran more at six weeks while their female siblings were more physically active at six and 12 months. This surprising behaviour, which could diminish the pups’ increased body fat and hence, risks of disease, is currently being studied by the team.

What this means for you

Your environment and lifestyle habits can “program” epigenetic changes in your future baby. Thus, adopting healthy practices and losing excess body fat before trying for a baby can significantly reduce your child’s risk of disease.

On the other hand, if your father was overweight or obese when you were conceived, being proactive about your health can keep complications at bay.

The findings were presented at The Endocrine Society’s 95th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.


    Ng et al (2010) Chronic high-fat diet in fathers programs β-cell dysfunction in female rat offspring. Nature. 467(7318):963-966.

    Nowak et al (2013) Effect of Paternal High-Fat Diet Induced Obesity on Body Composition and Voluntary Activity of Offspring. Endocr Rev. 34(03_MeetingAbstracts):SUN-709.