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Girls are more likely to gain weight if their grandfathers smoked before puberty, study suggests

Men who smoked before reaching puberty are more likely to have fat granddaughters or even great-granddaughters, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Bristol previously linked fathers who started smoking at a young age to having overweight children.

And now they believe they have found the first sign that the negative effects of cigarette use may extend over four generations.

Experts reviewed data records of 14,000 pregnant women who enrolled in the Children of the Nineties study, designed to closely monitor the health of their children and grandchildren.

These were prepared to record whether their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had started smoking before the age of 13 or in their teens.

Scientists found an association with increased body fat in granddaughters and great-granddaughters, but not in their male counterparts.

Granddaughters whose paternal grandfathers smoked as children carried an average of 5.35 kg more fat when they turned 17 than if their ancestors adopted the habit later in their teens. They averaged 13.4 lbs (6.1 kg) heavier when they were 24.

And if their paternal grandfathers were smokers from childhood, the increase was 7.8 pounds (3.54 kg) and 12.1 pounds (5.49 kg), respectively.

They found that the relationship was specific to sex and suggested it could be caused by smoking altering DNA in older generations, which could then be inherited by their offspring.

Researchers from the University of Bristol found that girls at age 24 had 13.4 pounds (6.1 kg) more body fat if their maternal great-grandfathers smoked before age 13 than if they didn't.  And they would probably be 12.1 pounds (5.49 kg) heavier if their paternal grandfathers did.  The effects were the opposite in male offspring for great-grandfathers and they only saw a 4.7-pound increase for great-grandfathers

Researchers from the University of Bristol found that girls at age 24 had 13.4 pounds (6.1 kg) more body fat if their maternal great-grandfathers smoked before age 13 than if they didn’t. And they would probably be 12.1 pounds (5.49 kg) heavier if their paternal grandfathers did. The effects were the opposite in male offspring for great-grandfathers and they only saw a 4.7-pound increase for great-grandfathers

Graphic shows: Dads who smoke regularly before turning 13 produce sons (squares) who are more likely to have excess body fat, while grandfathers and great-grandfathers who do are more likely to see the effect in girls (circles)

Graphic shows: Dads who smoke regularly before turning 13 produce sons (squares) who are more likely to have excess body fat, while grandfathers and great-grandfathers who do are more likely to see the effect in girls (circles)

Graphic shows: Dads who smoke regularly before turning 13 produce sons (squares) who are more likely to have excess body fat, while grandfathers and great-grandfathers who do are more likely to see the effect in girls (circles)

E-cigarettes ‘may harm men’s fertility’

Vaping can harm men’s fertility, a UK public health campaign warned for the first time.

E-cigarettes are listed alongside smoking, steroid use, and drinking too much as factors that affect the health and fertility of men’s testicles.

The British Fertility Society has also warned men against using a laptop directly on their lap and taking very long hot baths, as the testicles need to stay cool for optimal sperm production.

A huge drop in sperm count in recent decades is believed to be partly caused by lifestyle changes.

In 2020, a Danish study found that men who vaped had lower sperm counts, while a previous study from University College London found that chemicals in e-cigarette flavors could make sperm slower swimmers.

Kevin McEleny, a male fertility specialist from the University of Newcastle who helped develop the BFS campaign, said: ‘We know that e-cigarette flavors can be toxic to sperm.

“There are real concerns about the effect of these devices on male fertility because they don’t undergo the same rigorous controls as drugs.

“I definitely tell men undergoing IVF not to vape if at all possible, although smoking cigarettes will probably be worse.”

But they gave no clear reason why it seems to affect women more than men and said more studies are needed to confirm the relationship.

Previous research by the University of Bergen, Norway, suggested that regular smoking before you turn 15 may lead to lower lung function in children and grandchildren – suggesting that smoking has a similar link to an effect on genes passed down through generations.

The Bristol study, published in Scientific Reports, used data from the Children of the Nineties study, which began 30 years ago and whose original 14,000-strong grandchildren participated last September.

Researchers were unable to look at grandmothers and great-grandmothers because so few smoked in their youth. It was easier to get data on smoking men at a young age because they talked about it earlier, they said.

They relied on participants remembering their grandparents’ and parents’ smoking histories.

Based on that information, they measured women and men for body fat and lean body mass to determine whether previous-generation smoking might be related.

The researchers found that the most significant differences in weight were seen among girls whose maternal great-grandfathers and paternal grandfathers smoked before they were 13, compared with if they hadn’t.

Researchers said the findings could be groundbreaking by suggesting that environmental factors can alter genes over four generations.

Professor Jean Golding, lead author of the report and epidemiologist at the university, said: ‘This study gives us two important results.

‘Firstly, that a boy’s exposure to certain substances before puberty can have an effect on the generations after him.

“Second, one of the reasons children become overweight may not have so much to do with their current diet and exercise, but rather the lifestyle of their ancestors or the persistence of associated factors over the years.”

But the authors admitted that their data on prepubescent smoking was sparse even for men.

They said, ‘Anecdotally, it was something that grandfathers and great-grandfathers boasted about, often claiming that it had done them no harm!

Nevertheless, although the percentage of men born in the first half of the twentieth century smoked 80 to 90 percent, very few men claimed to have started smoking before the age of 13.

“This resulted in very small numbers for analysis.”

The researchers said more studies are needed to confirm the effects of smoking on granddaughters and great-granddaughters before they can be sure of the reasons why it might happen.

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