Thinking of gobbling up a fast food burger? Maybe you should try the chicken salad sandwich instead.
New research by scientists the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Massachusetts Medical School has found that environmental factors surrounding a father’s life, most specifically his diet, can have an impact on his child’s health. Studies have found a link between what a father eats and his child’s chances of medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease in mammals. Observational studies in the past have noted that children of parents with poor diets had a better chance of having medical problems, but this was one of the first scientific experiments to prove so.
UT/UMMS studied this link by controlling the diets of male and female mice. The females were fed a regular diet, while half of the males were fed that same diet and the other half received a diet with less protein. In observing the genes of the offspring of the mice, scientists noticed that those of mice with the low protein diet had genes that were better able to synthesize fats and cholesterol.
Mothers’ behavioral traits were already known to have a profound impact on children because of their contributions to the first moments of life, but these findings indicate that a father’s lifestyle can have an impact on a child without any direct interaction. They also contribute to evolutionary ideas because they open up new facets of understandings of “natural selection.”
Our own behavior and the genes of our ancestors have always been understood to be the markers of disease, but these new findings show that we might need to account for the behavior and environmental situations of our parents as well.
With this new knowledge, the next step in research is learning exactly how one’s environment is able to make these genetic changes and also what parents need to do to prevent negative impacts on their children’s health.