Reported in Science magazine online, fathers apparently also contribute to increasing the risk of diabetes in their offsprings. Although the study was conducted in rats, the findings present some “food” for thought. Daughters of obese rats were more likely to be underweight at birth, which in humans, according to the authors, “often foretells obesity later in life”. Furthermore, daughters also showed early signs of diabetes before reaching puberty. The effect is likely attributed to changes in male rats’ sperms. These changes, the authors propose, are subtle, but insidious and constitutes an “epigenetic” variation in chemical tags on the DNA rather than changes to the actual genetic codes.
Extrapolating findings from a rat study to humans comes with many caveats, however, that should not preclude us from concern regarding our mating partners. What it also suggests that the onus of a newborn’s health is on both the father and mother who are contributing their genetic material, which may alleviate some of the negative attention that’s been centered on overweight, pregnant women as of late. This concern over women’s bodies has spurred on NICE to produce guidance on “Weight management before, during and after pregnancy”. My friend, Kasia Tolwinski, a Ph.D. student at Cornell is studying this very topic from a critical, anthropological perspective.
Public health guidance PH27. Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence. July 2010. (pdf)