05/12/2015 7:25 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Dad's Health Prior To Conception Can Affect His Unborn Child's Health, Says New RMIT Study

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Overweight man and boy standing at beach

While there's a wealth of research about the effect of women's diets on their unborn children's health, a new Australian study has shown dad's pre-conception diet also impacts their children.

The RMIT University study found a dad’s diet caused 'epigenetic' changes which meant genes functioned differently in the offspring, causing a subsequent impact on the size of their children, but also their mental health.

So far, however, the theory has only been tested on rats.

School of Health Science professor Antonio Paolini said male rats allowed to gorge on food were compared to dieting rat dads and the offspring of the dieters were lighter, ate less and showed less anxiety even though dads had no interaction with the pups.

“The results suggest that the diet of one generation may affect the next,” Paolini said in a statement.

“This generation lives in a world where food is plentiful, something that could have profound implications for future generations and society as a whole.”

Paolini said the research's correlation to human parenting was not yet proven, but certainly compelling.

“When you see the lower levels of anxiety as a result of reduced diet crossing generations, it raises alarm bells for the long-term potential health consequences of a society with rising levels of obesity," he said.

Paolini said 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.”

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