Obesity in parents at the time of conception may be associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer in children.
Studies have shown that nutrition and environmental factors during pregnancy can affect the health of children, increasing the risk of chronic diseases. However, a recent study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, suggests that the lifestyle factors of the father can be passed on to the children. Specifically, paternal obesity can alter a genetic mechanism in the next generation.
The authors collected information on fathers and mothers through questionnaires and medical records, and then examined DNA from the umbilical cords of 79 newborns to determine the association between DNA methylation patterns in the offspring and obesity in fathers before of conception.
DNA methylation regulates the activity of certain genes, which may reflect an increased risk of some diseases. A decrease in DNA methylation in the IGF2 gene has been associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and ovarian cancer.
They found that DNA methylation in the IGF2 gene in children of obese parents was significantly lower than in children of parents who were not obese. This suggests that paternal obesity may be associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers in children.
These changes in DNA methylation could have been the result of obesity-related factors in parents, such as eating a certain diet or having diabetes.
More research is needed to determine whether these changes in DNA methylation in the IGF2 gene remain in children as they grow up, and to find out whether women taking folic acid during pregnancy to prevent birth defects might also avoid irregular profiles of methylation.
Moore GE and Stanier P. BMC Medicine (20123). On-line.