Overeating teenagers risk shortening future generations’ lifespan, a study suggests. Researchers in Sweden looked back at 9,039 grandparents born between 1874 and 1910, and followed their grandchildren until 2015.
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After comparing information from harvests, they found that that the grandsons of grandfathers who had eaten well from bountiful harvests during their formative years, were three times more likely to have died from cancer.
They were also 50 per cent more likely to have died from all causes, than children whose grandparents grew up in leaner times.
While the risk of early death was 10 per cent over the study period overall, it rose to 15 per cent for the descendants of those who ate well. Likewise, cancer deaths rose from two per cent to six per cent.
The scientists believe that eating too much may rewrite the genetic code, in a way which could increase the risk of disease for future generations – a process known as trans-generational epigenetic inheritance, which was thought impossible just a few years ago.
In Britain 32.4 per cent of children are now overweight or obese by the age of 11, and the figures are worse for boys, with 36 per cent classed in the heaviest categories.
Denny Vagero, Professor of Medical Sociology at Stockholm University said: “We should probably be concerned about over-eating, also in terms of future generations’ health.
“We prefer to be very cautious about the actual mechanisms. However, the results are unlikely to be due to confounding from cultural or social factors. We discuss whether new mutations, due to 19th century farming practices, could be the mechanism, but found this less likely.
“It is therefore worth exploring further the possibility that there is an epigenetic, male-line, trans-generational mechanism which can be triggered during boys childhood, pre-puberty.
“Stephen Frankel in Bristol, in his paper from 1998, showed that children with the highest calorie intake had a doubled cancer mortality risk as adults. We speculate that this effect becomes trans-generational in men.”
The study did not find any link between grandmothers and their grandchildren, nor granddaughters and their grandfathers.
The team said further research was needed to find out if the genetic code really was changing before they could say that the food intake was definitely causing an epigenetic change.