What a woman eats while she is pregnant has implications for her developing child. But what about the role of men? Does what a man eats have an impact on his future children? It may seem strange, but emerging research shows that the nutrition of fathers does have a role in their children’s risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity later in life.

Just as a woman’s diet has a role in affecting the health of her children and grandchildren, evidence is accumulating that the nutritional status of men can also be passed on to future generations. Studies have found that poor nutritional conditions in 8-12 year old boys are associated with increased risks of diabetes, heart disease and a shorter life span in their sons and grandsons. Female offspring seem to be less affected by their father’s nutritional status.

Studies in rodents have found changing the quantity or quality of a male’s diet at different times during development can induce changes in male offspring. Male rodents fed low protein or high fat diets increase the risk of high blood pressure, obesity and type-2 diabetes in their offspring and their offspring’s offspring as well. Male rodents whose mothers were exposed to limited food intake, but were able to eat to eat as much as they liked after birth, had offspring with lower birth weights and high blood sugar levels.

So how does this work?

These findings suggest that the effects of diet are passed to future generations though an “epigenetic” mechanism in sperm. Epigenetics is a new field of science that shows that while genetic codes inherited from parents cannot be changed, the expression of the genes contained in the DNA from parents can be regulated by nutritional conditions. In other words, poor nutrition can alter the way genes are turned off or on in children of men who had poor diets before they became fathers. Their children can then have higher risks for chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes as a result of epigenetic inheritance.

These new findings suggest that we must find ways to improve the diets of both young girls and young boys in order for our children to be healthy. Let’s not forget that the nutrition of men is important, not only for their own health, but the health of their children and future generations.

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Pay attention to food ads directed at teens and tweens

You might be in awe of the amount and kinds of food this group consumes. But why do they eat what they do? Watch for advertisements that are targeted toward this group. Turn on a TV program or TV station directed toward this group and look at what kinds of products are being advertised and how. Or have a conversation with an adolescent about what they eat.

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Involve teens in food shopping and cooking

Involve adolescents, especially boys, in the food shopping and meal preparation process. Giving teens and tweens a say in what foods are stocked at home and learning how to prepare them can influence what they eat. It’s also a great opportunity to spend some time together and talk about the importance of eating nutritious foods in ensuring their long-term health.

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Advocate for healthier snacks at school sporting events

Find out whether your local middle and high schools have concession stands at sporting events. Go to an event and check out the selection for yourself. Then, join with parents,  community members and the school board to advocate for healthier options to be sold  that can still help the groups earn a profit.