A dad's diet before they conceive could be genetically passed onto the children, with a subsequent impact on those childrens' mental health, the team from Melbourne-based RMIT University reported.
While mothers' diet and impact on children has been widely researched, this is believed to be the first time the behavioural and hormonal effects of the male diet on offspring has been studied.
During the study, lead researcher and professor Antonio Paolini allowed male rats to eat abundant amounts of food and compared them to those with access to 25 percent fewer calories in their diet.
"Even though the fathers had no contact with their offspring and the mother's behaviour remained relatively unchanged, the offspring of the food-limited rats were lighter, ate less and showed less evidence of anxiety," he noted.
The differences appeared to be 'epigenetic', meaning the younger rats' genes functioned differently as a result of their fathers' experience.
"The results suggest that the diet of one generation may affect the next," Paolini pointed out.
Reduced calories may sharpen survival instincts, making animals less anxious and more adventurous in the way they explore their environment.
The environmental factors could also have an effect on sperm production in men in the days leading up to conception, posing an additional risk to the health of their children.
"This makes it important for both mothers and fathers to consider their environment and things such as diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, before conceiving," the authors noted.
The research is forthcoming in the international scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
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