When planning to get pregnant, women often have many things to consider even before conception, such as increasing folic acid intake and stopping smoking or drinking alcohol. But what about the would-be father? Though general belief maintains that men do not need to make any lifestyle changes, a new study suggests babies whose fathers smoked prior to conception have a greater risk of asthma.
Results from the study are being presented today at the European Respiratory Society's (ERS) International Congress in Munich, Germany, and is the first study to look at how a father's pre-conception smoking habits can affect the respiratory health of his children.
The researchers say their findings add to increasing evidence from animal studies that suggest the father's lifestyle before conception can have negative health consequences for the child.
A recent study provided evidence that parental history can have a significant impact on the future health of the child. Published in the journal Science, the research suggested that poor parental health could predispose offspring to similar poor health.
For example, the researchers - led by Prof. Sarah Robertson of the University of Adelaide in Australia - said an obese parent could increase the risk of their child developing metabolic diseases.
"It's only been in the last 10 years that the science community has been seriously discussing these issues," said Prof. Robertson, "and only in the last 5 years that we've begun to understand the mechanisms of how this is happening."
She explained that many of our lifestyle choices, such as a poor diet or smoking, are stored in the egg and sperm, and are then translated into environmental signals that are sent to the embryo.
Findings have 'potentially large impact on public health policies'
For this latest study, led by Dr. Cecile Svanes from the University of Bergen in Norway, the researchers used a questionnaire to assess the smoking habits of over 13,000 men and women.
They then focused on the number of years an individual had smoked before conception, the incidence of asthma in their children and whether the parent had quit before the baby was conceived.
The study found that fathers - but not mothers - smoking prior to conception predicted non-allergic asthma (without hayfever) in children. Additionally, a child's risk of asthma increased if his or her father smoked before the age of 15, and this risk increased the longer the father's duration of smoking.
"This suggests a clinically important role of smoking on spermatogenesis with consequences for asthma development," write the researchers, "with potentially large impact on public health policies."
There was no observed link between a mother's pre-conception smoking and a child's asthma, they add.
Commenting on their findings, Dr. Svanes says:
"Given these results, we can presume that exposure to any type of air pollution, from occupational exposures to chemical exposures, could also have an effect. It is important for policymakers to focus on interventions targeting young men and warning them of the dangers of smoking and other exposures to their unborn children in the future."
Today, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested babies who sleep on animal fur for their first 3 months have a reduced risk of developing asthma in later childhood.