Men who started smoking before age 11 had fatter sons

April 2, 2014, University of Bristol

Men who started smoking regularly before the age of 11 had sons who, on average, had 5-10kg more body fat than their peers by the time they were in their teens, according to new research from the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol. The researchers say this could indicate that exposure to tobacco smoke before the start of puberty may lead to metabolic changes in the next generation.

The effect, although present, was not seen to the same degree in daughters. Many other factors, including and the father's weight, were taken into account but none could explain the change. In fact, the fathers who started smoking before 11 tended to have lower BMIs () on average.

The effect was not seen in the sons of men who started smoking after the age of 11, suggesting that the period before the start of puberty is a particularly sensitive period for environmental exposures. This is in line with a prior hypothesis by the authors based on earlier Swedish studies that linked paternal ancestor's food supply in mid childhood with mortality rates in grandchildren.

Of the 9,886 fathers enrolled in the study, 5,376 (54 per cent) were smokers at some time and, of these, 166 (3 per cent) reported smoking regularly before the age of 11.

When measured at age 13, 15 and 17, the sons of the men in the latter category had the highest BMIs at each time point compared with the sons of men who had started smoking later or who had never smoked. More precisely, these boys had markedly higher levels of fat mass (recorded using whole-body scans), ranging from an extra 5kg to 10kg between ages 13 and 17.

The research was funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and is published today in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

Speaking about the findings, senior author, Professor Marcus Pembrey said:

'This discovery of trans-generational effects has big implications for research into the current rise in obesity and the evaluation of preventative measures. It is no longer acceptable to just study lifestyle factors in one generation. We are probably missing a trick with respect to understanding several common diseases of public health concern by ignoring the possible effects of previous generations.'

Professor David Lomas, Chair of the MRC's Population and Systems Medicine Board, added:

'Population studies have provided a wealth of information about health and disease, including first identifying the link between smoking and cancer more than 60 years ago. This research clearly demonstrates that such studies have so much more to give, which is why it's vital that the future potential of cohorts and the studies they make possible is not jeopardised by the proposed EU data regulations.'

Explore further: Children as young as seven affected by parents smoking

More information: The paper, Northstone, K et al, 'Prepubertal start of father's smoking and increased body fat in his sons: further characterisation of paternal transgenerational responses' is published today [2 April 2014] in the European Journal of Human Genetics, DOI: 10.1038/ejhg.2014.31

Related Stories

Children as young as seven affected by parents smoking

July 24, 2013
A new study out today (24 July) shows that children as young as seven had elevated levels of cotinine (a by-product of nicotine) in their blood if their mother smoked, particularly children whose mothers smoked ten cigarettes ...

New evidence links smoking to postmenopausal breast cancer risk

March 19, 2014
Postmenopausal women who smoke or have smoked in the past may have an increased risk of breast cancer compared with women who have never smoked according to a new study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Children of divorced parents more likely to start smoking

March 14, 2013
Both daughters and sons from divorced families are significantly more likely to initiate smoking in comparison to their peers from intact families, shows a new analysis of 19,000 Americans.

Passive smoking causes irreversible damage to children's arteries

March 4, 2014
Exposure to passive smoking in childhood causes irreversible damage to the structure of children's arteries, according to a study published online today (Wednesday) in the European Heart Journal.

Smoking cessation reduces risk of cataract extraction

January 7, 2014
(HealthDay)—Smoking cessation correlates with a reduction in the risk of cataract extraction, although the risk persists for more than 20 years, according to a study published online Jan. 2 in JAMA Ophthalmology.

Smoking takes 10 years off life expectancy in Japan, not 4 as previously thought, experts warn

October 26, 2012
Smoking reduces life expectancy by ten years in Japan, but much of the risk can be avoided by giving up smoking, a paper published on bmj.com today shows.

Recommended for you

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

The surprising role of gene architecture in cell fate decisions

January 16, 2018
Scientists read the code of life—the genome—as a sequence of letters, but now researchers have also started exploring its three-dimensional organisation. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, an interdisciplinary research ...

Study advances gene therapy for glaucoma

January 16, 2018
While testing genes to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eye, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists stumbled onto a problem: They had trouble getting efficient gene delivery to the cells that act like drains ...

How incurable mitochondrial diseases strike previously unaffected families

January 15, 2018
Researchers have shown for the first time how children can inherit a severe - potentially fatal - mitochondrial disease from a healthy mother. The study, led by researchers from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit at the University ...

Genes that aid spinal cord healing in lamprey also present in humans

January 15, 2018
Many of the genes involved in natural repair of the injured spinal cord of the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals, according to a study by a collaborative group of scientists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.