Father's diet has a direct impact on childhood obesity rates

Childhood obesity, a growing concern worldwide, is at the center of an important study involving a seemingly simple dietary change.

The study highlights the potential of an easily available supplement – ​​fish oil – which is of interest not to children, but to their fathers.

Global child obesity rates

Alarming figures from the World Health Organisation show a dramatic increase in obesity among children aged 5 to 19 – expected to rise from 31 million cases in 1990 to 160 million by 2022.

This growing health problem often gives way to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, not to mention psychological effects in the form of low self-esteem and depression.

The study was initiated by scientists to find out how parental diet can affect the health of offspring, and this compelling research has shed new light on the fight against childhood obesity.

Focusing on ancestral diets

Latha Ramalingam, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition at Syracuse University, led the study, in which male rats were fed a high-fat diet with and without fish oil.

The results were promising. The offspring of males fed fish oil supplements had lower body weights and better metabolic health than their counterparts.

“Although more studies in humans are needed, this discovery adds a new dimension to our understanding of how parents, beyond just genetics, influence the well-being of their children,” Ramalingam said with remarkable enthusiasm.

“Fish oil, a readily available and safe supplement, could become a powerful weapon in our fight to make the next generation healthier.”

These findings will be presented by Sarah Dellett, a research student in Ramalingam's lab, at Nutrition 2024, the flagship annual event of the American Society for Nutrition.

Toward its goal, this is the first study to focus on the pattern of inheritance through paternal inheritance, and extends previous research on the benefits of fish oil supplementation in mothers to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

Deep Implications of Fish Oil

The study involved splitting about 150 male mice into two groups, one fed a high-fat diet that included fish oil, and the other not. They were paired with females who were on a regular low-fat, healthy diet.

Offspring sired by males on the fish oil diet weighed significantly less on days 7 and 21 than offspring from the other group.

In addition, female offspring from the first group displayed better metabolic health, evidenced by faster glucose clearance and insulin sensitivity.

“This concept offers significant potential to reshape our strategies to tackle childhood obesity,” Ramalingam said.

She envisions a future where dietary advice is not just limited to mothers, but fathers are also involved, allowing them to actively contribute to their children's health right from the start.

To take their research further, the team is now investigating how changes in a father's diet affect his sperm, which in turn impacts the health of his offspring.

They are also studying muscle and liver gene expression to gain a deeper understanding of improved insulin sensitivity in women.

A big step in tackling childhood obesity?

This research, although conducted primarily on mice, is a major leap forward in public health, and offers a unique perspective on tackling childhood obesity.

The father's potential role in this battle, apart from genetic contributions, has been largely overlooked until now. This study reinforces the notion that parental influence extends far beyond genetics.

An important conclusion from this research is that a simple dietary change involving fish oil for fathers could lead to a healthier future for the next generation.

This indicates a promising direction in the fight against childhood obesity, and calls for further studies in humans to validate these findings.

In this light, a more inclusive approach to pre-conception dietary advice may be adopted in the future, involving not only mothers but also fathers in the effort to raise healthy offspring.


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