paternal obesityDuke University is behind a new study published in the BMC Medicine journal. According to the study, paternal obesity may increase the risk of disease, including cancer, to offspring. Recent studies on the effect of parent lifestyle on offspring health and wellness have focused on maternal contributing factors. This Duke study is one of the first to connect paternal lifestyle choices on long-term health factors in offspring.

Duke used information collected by the Newborn Epigenetics Study, from the National Institutes of Health, for the study. Questionnaires were given to the parents of 79 newborns and answers were combined with maternal and paternal medical records. Umbilical cord blood samples were taken from all 79 neonates. Researchers compared the methylation patterns present in neonatal blood samples to paternal obesity.

DNA methylation (at IGF2) was lower in children born to obese fathers. This indicates an increased risk of disease, including certain forms of cancer. Children born to fathers of normal weight were not equally affected. Researchers recognized that paternal obesity may not be the direst cause of DNA methylation. Contributing factors could include dietary intake or diabetes, but these diseases were not taken into consideration for the study.

Duke is continuing the study with the same children as they grow older to record any changes that may occur (or not occur) in DNA methylation as children grow and age. The university may also partake in additional studies to reveal if interventions can be used to counteract the negative side effects and prevent DNA methylation even if paternal obesity exists. Possible interventions could take place before or after conception. There is no mention of future study into contributing factors, like diet or diabetes, on the methylation of offspring DNA.

Losing weight and adopting a healthy exercise plan prior to conception may help reduce weight, but there’s no clinical proof that weight loss immediately before conception would change DNA methylation. Previous studies on the impact of maternal weight on offspring have shown weight loss does not immediately reverse negative side effects of obesity.

Source: Adelheid Soubry, Joellen M Schildkraut, Amy Murtha, Frances Wang, Zhiqing Huang, Autumn Bernal, Joanne Kurtzberg, Randy L Jirtle, Susan K Murphy and Cathrine Hoyo. Paternal obesity is associated with IGF2 hypomethylation in newborns: results from a Newborn Epigenetics Study (NEST) cohort. BMC Medicine, 2013 DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-29.