(Photo via DoctorG)

This week’s New York Times featured an Op-ed about scientists who are studying the biological processes of grizzly bears to find a solution to obesity. According to the column, when grizzly bears pack on the pounds before hibernation, they do not become insulin resistant – they are actually able to better moderate insulin when they are most obese – but they do become insulin resistant when they hibernate. Interestingly, the bears then reverse the resistance when they awake, essentially “turning off” diabetes.  Scientists think the bear’s biological process is not just to control blood sugar levels, but also to control fat storage in the body and are looking at whether science can replicate the process to reduce fat storage in obese humans.

With over 2/3 of adults in the US considered obese – and the resulting strain on the healthcare system growing every day – this sounds like a win-win situation. But let’s take a step back for a minute. Why do we need to copy the biological process of a grizzly bear when we have our very own human process to reduce and prevent obesity – diet and exercise?

There is a time and place for medical intervention, but sometimes the solution to the problem is much simpler. If you start from the ground up to build communities that allow people to exercise and eat healthy, we can tackle the root cause of obesity rather than spending billions of dollars to treat it.

I am talking about actually giving people the tools to live a healthy lifestyle. How can you expect someone to go for a run in their neighborhood if the sidewalks are cracked or non-existent, or drive-by shootings are common? And how can you expect someone to eat a healthy diet when the corner store doesn’t sell a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables? Or how can a child learn about the importance of physical activity when PE is cut from the curriculum?

Obesity prevention is about community organizations coming together to build healthier communities, involving the public in conversations about how to live a healthy life and giving people the tools they need to make those decisions on their own.