Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

New data suggests the diet of fathers and even grandfathers may be linked to their offspring’s predisposition to obesity, the Obesity Summit in Canberra will learn tomorrow.

Working in rats, a team led by Professor Margaret Morris at Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, has shown that if grandfathers ate a high fat diet and were obese, their grandsons had a worse outcome if they consumed the same unhealthy diet, compared to brothers eating a healthy diet.

Lifestyle choices, such as poor diet and smoking, are passed onto offspring in part, because of chemical modifications to DNA, so called epigenetic changes, Prof Morris said today.

“When we challenged these offspring with an unhealthy diet, we unmasked a detrimental impact of their grandfathers behaviour,” she said. ”It’s likely the results are relevant to humans.”

While scientists have focused on how the maternal diet affects children’s health, few studies have explored the impact of grand-paternal diet on offspring risk of disease.

“We know quite a lot about the way in which the environment during pregnancy -- maternal diabetes or obesity, a low calorie or low protein diet -- can cause obesity in the offspring,” said Prof Morris. “We also know that for the female offspring this effect can persist into the second generation, with their children predisposed to obesity, but our new data suggests that paternal, and even grand-paternal, diet may impact offspring.”

Studies carried out in Sweden in three generations born last century have shown that grandfathers who had a surplus of food prior to reaching puberty had grandsons with increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Prof Morris said.

“We need more work to understand the underlying mechanisms. It will be important to follow up these findings, and to learn more about how to intervene to reduce the impact on offspring.  Obviously we need to encourage healthy lifestyles.”

Her “Role of parents in obesity – beyond DNA” address is at 1.15 tomorrow Thursday.

Work on the project is being undertaken by Drs Virginie Lecomte, Chris Maloney and Neil Youngson, and is funded by NHMRC.


Contact: Prof Margaret Morris 0404 790 699 or Summit PR Graeme Willingham 0414 499 887.

About Obesity Australia

Email: [email protected]

Obesity Australia is a not-for-profit health promotion organisation. Obesity Australia Members comprise the Board: John Funder (Executive Chairman), Christine Bennett, Helen Coonan, Christine Faulks, Peter Gluckman and Geoff Walsh, as well as Patrons Paul Zimmet and Harold Mitchell. Obesity Australia has Scientific Advisers including Jennie Brand-Miller, Stephen Colagiuri, Michael Cowley, John Dixon, John Funder, Anna Peeters, Joseph Proietto, Matthew Sabin, Stephen Simpson, and Gary Wittert. The CEO for Obesity Australia is Stella Clark. The mission of Obesity Australia is to drive change in the public perceptions of obesity, its prevention and its treatment. In the wake of the 2012 Summit, Obesity Australia put forward an Action Agenda for the 2014 Budget, focussing on inexpensive, electorally attractive and validated preventative measures, and means-tested, graded support for those with severe, chronic relapsing obesity. The 2013 Summit will review these priorities, and define processes and targets to progressively turn back the tidal wave over the next ten years.

Contact Profile

Graeme Willingham

P: 0414 499 887


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