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Soda Ads Target Low-Income Shoppers, Study Finds

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Soda Ads Target Low-Income Shoppers, Study Finds
Daniel Oines / CC BY 2.0

Low-income children and adults drink more sugary beverages than their more well-to-do counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now, a new study suggests this might not be just a question of poor nutritional education, but a direct result of shady marketing tactics, The Washington Post reported Thursday.


The study, published online in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in May, found that customers in New York state are more likely to see displays for sugary beverages like soda on days when food stamps are distributed, suggesting that beverage companies or supermarkets are deliberately targeting low-income customers.

"People will argue that individuals are ultimately responsible for their choices, but we know that the environment in which we make choices matters," said Alyssa Moran, study lead author and assistant professor of health and social policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This study is another example of industry targeting sugary beverage marketing toward lower income families," she told the Post.

The study used 2011 data from a census of beverage marketing in more than 600 stores conducted by the New York State Department of Public Health. They found that stores were 1.88 times more likely to feature sugary drink displays from the first to the ninth of the month, when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are distributed in New York.

In further evidence that SNAP recipients were being targeted, the likelihood of customers encountering soda displays on those days went up by 4.35 times in neighborhoods with lots of SNAP recipients and fell to zero in neighborhoods with few. Tellingly, ads for low-calorie or low-sugar drinks did not increase at the same time.

Since beverage companies pay stores to prominently display items, Moran told the Post it is not possible to know if stores or beverage companies are responsible for the targeted marketing. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and the Food Marketing Institute, speaking for retailers, all denied targeting ads to SNAP recipients.

The findings come as some want the government to add a ban on the use of SNAP benefits to purchase soda into the 2018 Farm Bill. Soda is the first of the top ten commodities SNAP users purchase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But Moran told the Post that a ban would be counterproductive since SNAP recipients could still purchase soda with cash and it would not address more structural issues of marketing and access, like those raised by her study. Instead, she recommended states distribute food stamps on a different time every month so that marketers couldn't target recipients on any one day.

For Monica Mills, Food Policy Action executive director, the findings back up the assertion that the blame for the nutrition gap should not be placed on low-income individuals.

"SNAP recipients need access to healthy food choices just like everyone else," Mills told the Post. "It's shameful that they are being zeroed in on by the soda industry, and at the same time, they are scrutinized and even ridiculed for the food choices they make."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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