Father’s diet could impact child’s mental health

Results of diet crossing generations raises concerns of consequences of widespread obesity in society.

By: PTI | Melbourne | Updated: December 2, 2015 7:28 pm
man eating Unhealthy diet among fathers can cause higher levels of anxiety among their children (Source: Flickr)

Dads-to-be, take note! The amount of food you consume could have a direct impact on your unborn child’s mental health and well being, a new study has found.

The study by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) suggested that a dad’s diet before the child’s conception could be genetically passed onto the next generation, with a subsequent impact on those children’s mental health. While mothers’ diet and its impact on children has been widely researched, this is believed to be the first time that behavioural and hormonal effects of the male diet on offspring have been studied.

The cross-generational study led by Antonio Paolini from RMIT’s School of Health Sciences compared male rats allowed to eat abundant amounts of food with those who had access to 25 per cent fewer calories in their diet.

“Even though the fathers had no contact with their offspring and the mother’s behaviour remained relatively unchanged, the offspring of the food-limited rats were lighter, ate less and showed less evidence of anxiety,” Paolini said. The differences appeared to be ‘epigenetic’, meaning the younger rats’ genes functioned differently as a result of their fathers’ experience. Paolini said that reduced calories may sharpen survival instincts, making animals less anxious and more adventurous in the way they explore their environment.

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“The results suggest that the diet of one generation may affect the next,” Paolini said.

“When you see the lower levels of anxiety as a result of reduced diet crossing generations, it raises alarm bells for the long-term potential health consequences of a society with rising levels of obesity,” he said. “This generation lives in a world where food is plentiful, something that could have profound implications for future generations and society as a whole,” he said.

Environmental factors could also have an effect on sperm production in men in the days leading up to conception, posing an additional risk to the health of their children, the researchers said. “This makes it important for both mothers and fathers to consider their environment and things such as diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, before conceiving,” Paolini said.

The research was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.