Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and University of Texas at Austin say animal studies indicate environmental influences on the father may "reprogram" genes in his offspring.
The study, published in the journal Cell, indicated offspring of male mice fed a low-protein diet exhibited a marked increase in the genes responsible for lipid and cholesterol synthesis vs. the offspring of the control group fed the standard diet.
The findings suggested the father's diet may play a more important role than previously believed in complex diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
"Knowing what your parents were doing before you were conceived is turning out to be important in determining what disease risk factors you may be carrying," principal investigator Dr. Oliver Rando of the University of Massachusetts said in a statement.
Rando and colleagues looked at the offspring of one group of male rats -- serving as controls -- fed a standard diet vs. the offspring of a second group that ate a low-protein diet. All females were fed the same, standard diet.