Research Projects

Understanding the links between obesity in parents and children’s future dementia risk

Awarded to:
Dr Cheryl Hawkes

Current award:

Lancaster University

1 October 2022 - 30 September 2026

Full project name:

Impact of paternal obesity on offspring brain structure and function; implications for Alzheimer's disease






Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia affecting around 600,000 people in the UK today.

We know that the changes in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s begin up to 20 years before symptoms show, and emerging research has shown that our lifestyle factors make up part of our risk of developing the disease.

With up to 40% of all dementia cases being linked to factors that can be changed, it is important that researchers can unpick risk factors to inform public health messaging.

What will they do?

Dr Hawkes and her team will use information across three generations of people who took part in the Framingham Heart Study – a large-scale, long-term research project that is looking at aspects of people’s life that contribute to heart disease – to evaluate dementia risk of people whose fathers were overweight at the point of their conception.

They will look at people’s memory and thinking skills as well as their brain structures to see if there is a difference between people with father’s who are classified as overweight, compared to those that are not.

Using data collected from the offspring in adulthood, the team will look for biomarkers that indicate an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and again compare between the two different father groups.

Finally, Dr Hawkes team will work with  mice with features of Alzheimer’s disease that have different diets to mimic the two father groups (overweight vs lean) to look at behaviour, memory, brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease and changes to DNA.

What could the outcomes be?

This project will shed light on the effects of parental diet and weight on children’s risk of developing dementia.

Results from this study can inform prevention and risk messaging for people throughout life and provide new strategies to reduce cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

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Dementia is one of the world’s greatest challenges. It steals lives and leaves millions heartbroken. But we can change the future.