Research roundup: Food insecurity and chirping crickets

University of Minnesota researchers published several studies last month.

by Gwiwon Jason Nam

University of Minnesota researchers released several studies last month focusing on topics like sustainable diets, child food insecurity and male crickets in Hawaii.

Many young adults value sustainably-produced foods

University researchers examined the continuity of valuing sustainable diet practices from adolescence to adulthood and its impact on food choices.

According to the research, sustainable diets benefit society. Their impact on the environment is minimal and they promote the health of those in the present and future.

“This study uniquely allowed for building understanding of how values around sustainable food production may change,” said Nicole Larson, a nutritional epidemiologist who co-authored the study, in an email sent to the Minnesota Daily. 

Their findings suggest that public health messages addressing sustainable foods are likely relevant to many young adults, including those who have limited resources to purchase food and are “nutritionally vulnerable.”

“It is one of the first longitudinal studies to have looked at how early and present values for sustainable food production practices may influence the healthfulness of dietary intake,” Larson said in the email.

Children and food insecurity in summer months

Children from households lacking a reliable access to healthy food drank more sugar-filled beverages and ate less fruit than children who were food-secure, according to a School of Nursing study published last month.

Researchers looked at differences in the diets of school-aged children during the summer months on weekdays and weekends, unlike previous studies that have focused on insecurity during the school year.

According to the study, children tend to gain weight in the summer and making nutritious food more accessible may avert weight gain and promote healthy development.

“Our study assessed children’s weekday and weekend day dietary intake during summer months which is a time when children are prone to excess weight gain,” said Jiwoo Lee, a research associate and lead author, in an email.

Lee said the researchers believe the study’s findings highlight a need to improve access to nutritious food for children over the summer months.

Mutations in male Hawaiian crickets

University researchers measured the intensity of the reproductive disadvantage of mutated male crickets in nature, focusing on Pacific field crickets in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, male crickets are preyed upon by fly larvae that act like parasites. Female flies use male cricket songs to find their hosts, and the male crickets infested with the fly larvae die.

A genetic mutation present in the cricket population changes the wing structures that crickets rub together to produce their chirping sound, meaning the crickets can no longer sing.

Non-singing male crickets are safe from the flies, which has caused the mutation to spread throughout the cricket population, said Jessie Tanner, who led the study as a doctoral student in the College of Biological Sciences, in an email sent to the Daily. This is what the researchers called a “natural selection pressure” and they deemed the crickets with the mutation “flatwings.”

According to the research, silent male crickets have a hard time finding mates because cricket song is how females find mates, and females are reluctant to mate with males that cannot sing, Tanner said.

Another kind of evolutionary pressure is present among the cricket population — sexual selection. Although this strongly disfavors “flatwing” males, the researchers found the population between singing and non-singing males was balanced, Tanner added.

“This system offers us a rare opportunity to observe rapid evolution and trait loss, and to understand what happens when two major drivers of evolutionary change act in conflict,” Tanner said in the email.

The research found that singing males outcompeted silent males in terms of reproductive success in a single generation.

“These findings help us understand why singing crickets remain common in Hawaii even though singing likely results in parasitization and death,” Tanner said.