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Animal study links dad’s weight and child’s cancer risk

Obese male mice and normal weight female mice produce female pups that are overweight and have increased rates of breast cancer, a US study has found


Research carried out at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center found that, in mice, daughters of fat dads have delayed breast development and are overweight throughout their childhood.

The researchers behind the study, published today in Scientific Reports, say they have found evidence that obesity changes genes in both the dad’s sperm and the daughter’s breast tissue.

“This study provides evidence that, in animals, a fathers’ body weight at the time of conception affects both their daughters’ body weight both at birth and in childhood as well as their risk of breast cancer later in life,” says the study’s lead investigator, Sonia de Assis, PhD.

Obesity and some breast cancers can run in families, and previous research has determined a link between a human mother’s weight during pregnancy and her child’s weight and cancer risk.

This is one of the first studies to examine the impact of a father’s weight on that of his offspring, but more research is needed to determine whether the same effects are seen in humans.

“Of course our study was done in mice, but it recapitulates recent findings in humans which show that obese men have significant epigenetic alterations in their sperm compared to lean men”, de Assis says.

“Our animal study suggests that those epigenetic alterations in sperm may have consequences for next generation cancer risk.”

The researchers say that until more evidence is available, it’s important that both men and women eat a balanced diet and keep a healthy body weight for their own benefit and ‘to give their offspring the best chances of being healthy.’

The UK has the highest level of obesity in Western Europe, a 2013 report suggests, and almost a quarter of British adults are overweight.

According to the NHS, obese men are five times more likely than a healthy male to develop type 2 diabetes and three times more likely to develop cancer of the colon.

If you are concerned about your weight, visit the NHS website for advice and a 12-week weight loss plan.

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