Influence of maternal and paternal pre-conception overweight/obesity on offspring outcomes and strategies for prevention

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2021 Dec;75(12):1735-1744. doi: 10.1038/s41430-021-00920-7. Epub 2021 Jun 15.


Overweight, obesity, and their comorbidities remain global health challenges. When established early in life, overweight is often sustained into adulthood and contributes to the early onset of non-communicable diseases. Parental pre-conception overweight and obesity is a risk factor for overweight and obesity in childhood and beyond. This increased risk likely is based on an interplay of genetic alterations and environmental exposures already at the beginning of life, although mechanisms are still poorly defined. In this narrative review, potential routes of transmission of pre-conceptional overweight/obesity from mothers and fathers to their offspring as well as prevention strategies are discussed. Observational evidence suggests that metabolic changes due to parental overweight/obesity affect epigenetic markers in oocytes and sperms alike and may influence epigenetic programming and reprogramming processes during embryogenesis. While weight reduction in overweight/obese men and women, who plan to become pregnant, seems advisable to improve undesirable outcomes in offspring, caution might be warranted. Limited evidence suggests that weight loss in men and women in close proximity to conception might increase undesirable offspring outcomes at birth due to nutritional deficits and/or metabolic disturbances in the parent also affecting gamete quality. A change in the dietary pattern might be more advisable. The data reviewed here suggest that pre-conception intervention strategies should shift from women to couples, and future studies should address possible interactions between maternal and paternal contribution to longitudinal childhood outcomes. Randomized controlled trials focusing on effects of pre-conceptional diet quality on long-term offspring health are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet
  • Fathers
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Overweight* / prevention & control
  • Pediatric Obesity* / etiology
  • Pediatric Obesity* / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy