The National Institutes of Health is supplying the Utah State research team with a grant of over $1.5 million, as the team looks at the less understood role of fathers' nutrition in the health of infants.
Mirella Meyer-Ficca is the lead researcher on the team and an assistant professor at Utah State University. She said when she was expecting a baby of her own, many people were concerned about her health, but no one really thought about the nutrition of the father.
“We’re forgetting that the fathers contribute half of what makes up a baby," she said. "This input from the father is really just as important for the baby’s health early during development, and also later in life.”
Meyer-Ficca said she referenced a study done in the past that mated obese male rats with healthy female rats. Even if both the mother and baby had a healthy and controlled diet, the offspring were likely to develop health problems.
Through this study, it was discovered that although the DNA does not change, the cellular instructions for how cells use their DNA can be altered by environmental factors like diet. This process is called epigenetics.
“Once we know how the whole process works, prospective fathers can do their part to make sure that their babies have the best start possible for a healthy life," she said. "It could be as easy as choosing the right food and the right lifestyle.”
Meyer-Ficca said a distinguishing factor is that the health of prospective fathers in relation to the child is going to be especially important before a child is conceived, while the health of the mothers is important beforehand, and also while pregnant.
She said she is thankful to have received the grant from the NIH and she is looking forward to getting more answers regarding the research.