Men with high-fat diets are more likely to have diabetic children, research showed Thursday, in the first study linking a baby's health to what their father ate.
The study tracked a group of rats that were fed fatty foods until they were obese and showing precursory signs of type 2 diabetes and were then bred with females of average weight, explained lead researcher Margaret Morris.
Morris said that despite being reared on a strictly healthy diet, their offspring developed impaired glucose tolerance and insulin production when they reached young adulthood.
"If what we seeing here in a rat translates to a human it may well explain the emerging earlier rates of diabetes in younger and younger people," said Morris, from the University of New South Wales.
Rather than passing their ill health onto their children genetically Morris said the metabolic issues appeared to have come from damage done to the rats' sperm by their diet. It was the first study to uncover such a link, she added.
"We've known for a while that overweight mums are more likely to have chubby babies, and that a woman's weight before and during pregnancy can play a role in future disease in her children," she said.
"But until now, the impact of the father's environment - in terms of diet - on his offspring had not been investigated."
Morris said the message of the research, published in the latest edition of Nature, was that "blokes as well as women need to eat healthier, reduce smoking and reduce alcohol excess" before having children.