Overweight in male puberty: Changing asthma risk in future offspring?

Overweight is a known risk factor for asthma within the individual, but it is not known whether overweight may also increase asthma risk in the next generation. A mother’s environment shortly before and during pregnancy influences the child’s health. However, emerging evidence suggests that fathers’ health and behaviours before conception could also be of importance. Intrauterine life and early puberty might possibly constitute periods with particular vulnerability for developing germ cells.



In an Original article published in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JACI), Johannessen and colleagues examined if parents’ overweight in childhood, adolescence or adulthood, was associated with asthma in their adult offspring. The analysis included 6347 adult offspring (age 18-52 yrs) participating in the RHINESSA multi-generation study, of 2044 fathers and 2549 mothers who were investigated in the RHINE/ECRHS studies.

The researchers analysed associations of parental overweight onset at age eight, puberty and age 30 with offspring asthma with or without nasal allergies. Parental overweight in each time window was defined using a validated figural drawing scale of nine body silhouettes, specific for men and women.

The authors found that fathers’ overweight onset in puberty appeared to cause increased asthma risk in his offspring. This was found for non-allergic asthma in adult offspring. This effect was not mediated through the offspring’s own overweight. No effects on offspring were found for father’s overweight onset in other time-windows or of mothers’ overweight. 

Overweight in boys starting in puberty appeared to increase asthma risk in their future offspring. The findings suggest that factors long before conception may impact on asthma, and that male puberty is a time window of particular importance. Considering the global increase in obesity, also among the young, these results are alarming.