It's no medical secret that the diet of hopeful or expectant mothers can have an impact on the health of their child.
But a new study says the father's diet could play a similar role.
Biologists at the University of Cincinnati looked at the impact of nutrition of male fruit flies and observed a strong correlation between poor diet and poor survivorship among their offspring. Interestingly, the effects of the poor diet were especially profound beyond the first copulation between the males with a poor diet and healthy females.
Elizabeth Zawila, a registered dietitian at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital's Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says the study has interesting implications.
Though we may not have control over which genes we are born with and which we pass on to our offspring, she says, we may have some control over gene expression, even from the father.
"I have met with many women who were trying to get pregnant or were pregnant who were highly motivated to change their diets for their health and the health of their children," she says. "Knowing a man's diet could also impact the health and well-being of their children, this could be another source of motivation for a man to improve his diet."
She admits there is still a need for further paternal research, but there is some precedent to the idea, according to the University of Cincinnati study.
A 2002 Swedish population study found a correlation between 9-year-old children who had ample access to food and higher rates of diabetes and heart disease among their grandchildren. Meanwhile, children who lacked nutrition from famine at the same age had children and grandchildren with less incidences of heart disease and diabetes.
Zawila says it's important for everyone -- expectant parents or otherwise -- to remember it takes time to build a better diet based around five to nine servings of vegetables, lean protein sources, whole grains and heart-healthy fat sources each day.
Even if the lessons learned from the fruit flies don't fully carry over to human dads-to-be, Zawila says parents should still consider whether they can make improvements for the sake of their kids and themselves.
"It's a great idea for both prospective parents to focus on healthy nutrition before conception, if possible, so they are well-prepared to model good nutrition behaviors they can pass on to their children," she says.