The results of a study published in The Journal of Physiology indicate that children of fathers with high-fat diets or who are obese are more likely to have low insulin sensitivity.  But the results also indicate that exercise early in life reverses the negative effect of this low insulin sensitivity in adulthood for children and therefore can counteract the risk of diabetes.

“Obesity due to a high-fat diet in the father can have a negative effect on the metabolism of their offspring,” said the study’s authors Dr Filippe Falcão-Tebas and Professor Glenn McConell.

“Our study showed that exercise only in early life of the offspring can have long-lasting beneficial effects on their health by normalising their muscle insulin sensitivity in adulthood.”

The study, conducted by Victoria University, Melbourne, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, involved breeding obese male rats with healthy female rats. Their offspring underwent exercise training for only four weeks after weaning and then were assessed as adults in terms of responsiveness to glucose and insulin, skeletal muscle function and pancreas structure.

The offspring of obese fathers had reduced whole body and skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin secretion. Early exercise in these offspring prevented in adulthood the negative effects caused by a high-fat diet in their fathers.

It was noted that early exercise did not have any positive effects on the rats’ pancreases. This was very interesting as the group had previously shown that rats born small for gestational age, like humans, had pancreas problems as adults but in this case, early life exercise in the rats prevented the pancreatic problems.

The study is limited in that the researchers did not determine at which age the alterations in the health status of the individual begins and when these changes take place. This would help to determine the optimal periods during childhood when preventive interventions should be introduced.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. People with low insulin sensitivity do not respond to insulin as well as normal, which results in blood sugars levels increasing and can lead to type 2 diabetes.

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