Prospective dads beware, high fat diet means higher diabetes risk for your daughter, says Australian research.
The study, published today in the journal Nature, shows female offspring of obese male rats had the same glucose intolerance as their fathers.
Professor Margaret Morris of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales supervised the PhD study by Sheau-Fang Ng.
They fed male rats a high-fat diet so they developed diabetes, then mated them with healthy female rats.
The offspring of the obese male rats had trouble handling glucose even when they were consuming low-fat foods.
By puberty they could not respond normally to glucose and by late adolescence the structure of their pancreases had changed and they were less able to secrete insulin.
Prof Morris says although previous studies had paid a lot of attention to effects transmitted from the mother, the potential effects of the father hadn't been examined.
"In the mothers there are clear mechanisms were that might happen through the uterus. What happens while a foetus is developing can have an impact", she says, "but the father has really been a bit of an untapped question."
As for her own findings, she says the effect could be partly genetic, but it is more likely biological.
"What we seem to have is an environmental effect, so it's a non-genetic effect, because the only thing we've imposed here is obesity and diabetes in the dad. And that has been transmitted to the offspring."
Morris says one of the most interesting findings was that the female offspring, despite being on a normal diet, developed glucose intolerance at a very young age.
"What we noticed was that they were already glucose intolerant at six weeks and they got worse by twelve weeks effectively between the onset of puberty and adolescence," she says.
"With the increasing obesity epidemic there's early emergence of type 2 diabetes in younger and younger people, teenagers, so this was part of the drive for the study."
The next phase will boost the study size to give better data for statistical analysis, and to look at whether male offspring show the same impaired insulin synthesis, Morris says.
"I think the interesting thing is, this really represents an advance in our understanding of potential paternal influences on the metabolic health of offspring", she says.
Mr. Greg Johnson, acting chief executive of Diabetes Australia, says the research could lead to a better understanding of what causes type 2 diabetes.
"We know the genes play a part, but equally we know that the environment plays an important part," he said.
"[If] it's the environments having an effect on the genes, that's a new area of science that's very interesting and we need to better understand this.
"There are things that people can do to help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
"Most of those modifiable things that they can do relate to eating a good healthy balanced diet and maintaining good physical activity and exercise and a healthy body weight."