Ever wondered why children seem to take after their parents when it comes to lifestyle, no matter how their parents raise them? Well, it turns out it’s a bit more than coincidence, according to University of Adelaide researchers, who have discovered overwhelming evidence that a child’s future health is influenced by more than just their parents’ genetic material.

The findings were published in a paper called “Parenting from before conception” , published in last Friday’s issue of the top international journal Science by researchers at the University’s Robinson Research Institute . The paper concludes that parental influences on a child begin before conception, because stored environmental factors in the egg and sperm actually contribute more than just genetic material to the child, similar to the way that animals pass on instinctual behaviors an cues to their offspring, says Professor Sarah Robertson, the study’s author and Director of the University’s Robinson Research Institute.

The findings show that environmental factors prior to conception have more influence on the child’s future than previously thought, and that children born to unhealthy parents will already be pre-programmed for greater risk of poor health, according to University of Adelaide researchers.

“Many things we do in the lead up to conceiving is having an impact on the future development of the child – from the age of the parents, to poor diet, obesity, smoking and many other factors, all of which influence environmental signals transmitted into the embryo,” Professor Robertson says.

So babies are not born with a clean slate, like previously thought. As the saying goes, “like father, like son.”

Professor Robertson explains, “People used to think that it didn’t matter, because a child represented a new beginning, with a fresh start. The reality is, we can now say with great certainty that the child doesn’t quite start from scratch – they already carry over a legacy of factors from their parents’ experiences that can shape development in the fetus and after birth. Depending on the situation, we can give our children a burden before they’ve even started life.”

The good news is that with this new information, every human has the capacity for changing their bad habits and behaviors. “A few lifestyle changes by potential parents and improvements in the right direction, especially in the months leading up to conception, could have a lasting, positive benefit for the future of their child,” she says. Couples who are planning their families should work on improving their health with whole-family health in mind..