Eating Junk Food is Causing Negative Consequences for Bears

We are aware of some of the negatives of eating foods that are high in sugar and other ‘junk foods,’ but now researchers are looking into the effects on wildlife. In a new study, it was found that bears that like these tasty snacks might experience shorter hibernation periods and faster aging.


Researching the Effects of Junk Food on Wildlife

In many parts of the world, wildlife that lives close to human settlements often rifle through trash cans and dumpsites to find food. Besides the effects and dangers of this on the human side, the new study has looked at the implications for animals.

One of the coauthors of the study is Jonathan Pauli, who is a community ecologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The idea of the study came from an earlier project where his then Ph.D. student, Rebecca Kirby, was looking into the diets of wild black bears across Colorado. Hundreds of bears were looked at, and those that scavenged more on human food had higher concentrations of Carbon-13. This is a stable form of carbon that bears eating more processed foods have in their body tissue. This happens with foods that have high corn and cane sugar.

The new research looked at 30 free-roaming female black bears near Durango. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife department helped to monitor them. The bears were tested for Carbon-13 as an indicator of which bears ate more human-related foods. The ones eating more junk food were found to hibernate for shorter periods.

To measure aging effects, lengths of bits of DNA called telomeres were measured. Various studies have linked the shortening of these chromosome ends with aging. The bears hibernating for shorter periods in the study were found to have shorter lengths of telomeres. This links the junk food diet in bears with faster aging. Because of the difficulty in obtaining samples and data from the wild bears, the study results may not be definitive but has opened up new topics for further research.

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