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There’s a link between a father’s weight and diet at the time of conception and an increased risk for diabetes in his children, according to a study published last year in the journal Nature.

Researchers Margaret Morris, PhD, and Sheau-Fang Ng overfed male rats a high-fat diet to induce obesity and glucose intolerance. The rats then mated with normal-weight female rats. When the researchers examined the pairs’ offspring, they found that males showed nascent signs of diabetes and females showed significant signs of diabetes.

In the female offspring, Morris and Ng found altered expression of a number of genes linked to the ability to produce insulin. “This suggests that offspring of obese fathers may experience changes in their pancreases,” says Morris. Also, most of the females were underweight at birth. Humans who are underweight at birth are more likely to be obese as adults.

The research duo attributes the alterations to chemical changes, triggered by lifestyle factors, that determine whether or not a certain gene is expressed.

The implications are important, says Morris: “If a similar process occurs in humans, it underlines the need to maintain a healthy diet and weight for one’s own health and for that of the next generation.”

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