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Study: Father’s Age, Lifestyle Can Cause Birth Defects

Father with newborn infant sleepingWomen who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant often hear warnings about how their age and lifestyle might affect their children. According to new research published in the American Journal of Stem Cells, fathers’ drinking habits, age, and lifestyle may contribute to birth defects.

Previous research has shown a mother’s lifestyle, including her nutritional status, psychological well-being, hormonal profile, and other factors, can produce permanent changes that alter the behavior of genes and cells in her child. The latest research shows fathers play a similar role, suggesting would-be fathers should cultivate their physical and mental health as carefully as mothers do.

Fathers Can Reduce Birth Defects, Too

The study reviewed previous data on the role of fathers’ preconception health in subsequent offspring outcomes. The report found a number of correlations between fathers’ choices and their children’s health.

As many as 75% of children born with fetal alcohol syndrome—a cluster of symptoms that can impede psychological and physical development—had fathers with an addiction to alcohol. Even children of mothers who never drank during pregnancy may develop fetal alcohol syndrome, pointing to the important role of fathers’ lifestyle choices. Paternal alcohol consumption was also linked to low birth weight and a reduction in both brain size and cognitive abilities.

The study also found a link between older fathers and children with schizophrenia, birth defects, and autism. Specifically, at age 25 the risk of schizophrenia increases with each five-year age increment. Children of fathers older than 45 faced the greatest risk. Fathers who experienced psychosocial stress also were linked to fathering children with behavioral issues.

Fathers who ate limited diets in childhood were more likely to have children and grandchildren with a reduced risk of cardiovascular death. Conversely, obese fathers were more likely to have children with enlarged fat cells, metabolic dysfunction, obesity, diabetes, and brain cancer.


  1. Day, J., Sovani, S., Krempley, B. D., Nguyen, M., & Kitlinska, J. B. (2016). Influence of paternal preconception exposures on their offspring: Through epigenetics to phenotype. American Journal of Stem Cells, 5(1), 11-18.
  2. Father’s age and lifestyle associated with birth defects, review reports. (2016, May 15). Retrieved from http://neurosciencenews.com/father-age-birth-defects-epigenetics-4242/

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Emmey

    May 16th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    I have to say that I am surprised because all of the other evidence had always pointed to the mother’s age and never that of the father as being the biggest risk factor.

  • Jack

    May 16th, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    Gee, doesn’t this just make everybody want to run out and get pregnant?

  • tammy

    May 17th, 2016 at 2:45 PM

    Hard living is hard living no matter whether you are the woman or the man. Both of you are contributors to this little life so the best thing to do when you are wanting to get pregnant is to live the straight and narrow and get yourself in shape before you decide to pass on your genes to another little human.

  • Liam

    May 19th, 2016 at 11:05 AM

    We have been brainwashed to believe that it is only the age of the mother that makes the difference when now science is showing that it is the health and age of both partners which could play a role in the development of the child. I am glad to see that there is now a recognition that with this two there is a shared responsibility for keeping the babies well and healthy, and that not all the blame should ever be focused solely on the mum.

  • Locke

    May 20th, 2016 at 2:17 PM

    While it does go against everything we have always been told, it makes sense once you think about it.
    How could, when both people are creating a life, only one of you have the sole responsibility for the overall health of the child.
    I don’t think that it ever really made any sense but we wanted it to.

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