Just in time for Father’s Day in the U.S.: Researchers have found that male mice that were fed a high-fat diet and became obese were more likely to father offspring who also had higher levels of body fat.

Speaking at The Endocrine Society’s annual meeting being held in San Francisco, Ohio University scientists showed that they observed this effect primarily in male offspring, despite their consumption of a low-fat diet.

The scientists said epigenetics may be part of the reason obese fathers they observed were more likely to have heavier children.

“We’ve identified a number of traits that may affect metabolism and behavior of offspring dependent on the pre-conception diet of the father,” Felicia Nowak, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences, said in a statement.

The researchers note that while the effect of parental diets on children’s weight has been well-studied in humans, by studying the effect in mice, they hope to better understand the biological mechanisms behind the phenomenon. And, as most previous research in mice has focused on mothers, they sought to evalaute the impact of a high-fat diet with male parents.

For this investigation, Dr. Nowak and her colleagues fed male mice a high-fat diet for 13 weeks before mating, while they fed females a matched low-fat diet. The researchers fed the resulting male and female offspring a standard low-fat diet, examining their body fat content at 20 days, six weeks, six months, and one year.

Compared with offspring from control mice fed a low-fat diet, the male offspring of paternal mice with diet-induced obesity had higher body weight at six weeks of age, the researchers reported at ENDO13. Those same offspring showed different patterns of body fat composition—a marker for health and propensity for disease—than the control mice, the researchers noted.

Dr. Nowak et al., now aim to identify the genes responsible in an effort to identify possible predictors.

“Early detection and prediction of risk for obesity, diabetes, and related diseases will enable individuals and health care workers to delay or prevent the related disabilities and increase life expectancy,” Dr. Nowak added.

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