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Pumpkins in Graveyard

Is A Decrease In Halloween Spending Threatening The Economy?

Halloween is one of the many holidays that contribute to America’s consumer-driven economy. This year, retailers are worried, as it’s projected that by the end of the week Americans would have spent a total of $8.8 billion collectively this Halloween season, according to The Hill Magazine. While that figure is huge, it’s a decline from the past two years income of $9.2 billion for both 2017 and 2018. Retail experts aren’t considering this to be a “decline” but it is definitely way less than what the industry has seen come in throughout the past decade. 

According to John Leer, an analyst at Morning Consult, “the trend for consumer sentiment over the past year has been clear. We recently launched a daily consumer sentiment index that tracks how consumers feel about the current economy and their expectations of where the economy is headed. For all these consumer indexes, we see that they are considerably lower than they were at this time last year.” 

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Consumer sentiment is basically a fancy term for how average consumers think the economy is functioning based on their own experience and financial situation. A drop in sentiment means that consumers are more likely to spend way less than they normally would, especially around the holidays. Consumers are more likely going to turn to online retailers and alternative cheaper options, which isn’t a bad thing for them, however, for the economy it could be detrimental. 

According to The Hill, consumer spending accounts for around 70% of the US economy, which is why the industry is worried about the decrease in sentiment. In the past, there has been a steady increase in sentiment and spending around the holiday season. This increase has indicated to the government that consumers have a lot more disposable income to spend on holiday products that they’ll really only need for one day of the year, depending on the holiday in this case Halloween. 

“An increase indicates that we are simply much wealthier than we used to be, and we spend a significantly smaller percentage of our income on food, clothing and shelter than did our parents or grandparents. This leaves us much more to spend not just on the new gadgets they didn’t have but everything from Halloween to Valentine’s Day to bar mitzvahs, birthdays and barbecues,” said Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University.

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However, when there’s a decrease in holiday spending, it can be an indication for how much disposable income the average American is willing to spend/has in general. Especially around Halloween, a holiday that is built around flashy expenses. Family oriented homes are more likely to want to spend more as a means of fitting in with the rest of the neighborhood, and giving their child the best and spookiest experience they can while they’re still kids. At the same time, needless decorative expenses that a household will only get use out of for one week of the year is typically the first thing to go when a family needs to make some budget cuts. 

It’s the same with Christmas and the holidays in general. Added expenses can be expected to decrease as the focus shifts to gifts and food purchases, and any other big ticket holiday need. With Halloween, the focus becomes the costume and candy purchases, both of which seem to receive an increase in price when October rolls around. 

Luckily, November and December is right around the corner, and any decrease in economic growth that occurred within the past month is expected to be made up for and then some for the holidays. The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday winter sales can hit up to $730 billion, about a 4% increase over last year, according to the Hill

“There are enough signs of toil and trouble that could spook markets and send a chill through the economy. I wouldn’t put it ‘the world is falling apart’ phase yet. But the trend that we see is really concerning, and it’s consistent among all demographic groups,” said Mary McGinty, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

Scientist on Computer

Could Genetic Testing Services Inform Your Lifestyle?

Services that promise to analyze consumers’ DNA in order to give them information about their genetics have been around for years. The most notable of these services are ones that provide information about a person’s ancestry, breaking down a person’s genetic information by geographical region and even connecting relatives who may not have known that they are related with one another. One of the most popular genetic testing services, 23andMe, even promises to inform consumers of their genetic predispositions for certain illnesses and traits, as well as carrier traits which do not manifest in the individual being tested but could affect the person’s family. A new service, Gini, aims to take the field of personal genomics a step further by not only identifying a wide range of health characteristics obtained from a person’s DNA, but by synthesizing this information into an extremely personalized lifestyle plan, which includes nutritional advice about what type of food is best for your unique genetic composition and exercise programs tailored to your genes.

What differentiates Gini from similar services is the functionality added by the company’s app, which requires a monthly subscription of $9.99 to operate. The app, which is available for both Android and iOS devices, is the primary method of interacting with the results of your genetic test, as it displays lists of foods which the company claims are good for you and list of foods that aren’t, and a behavioral coaching feature, which leverages principles of psychology to help you develop healthier habits and reduce risks of developing illnesses, particularly ones that the company identifies you having a genetic predisposition towards. You can buy a genetic testing kit from the company for $25 with the purchase of a subscription, or you can import your genetic information from a previous test conducted by 23andMe, ancestry.com or myheritage. One disadvantage of Gini’s service is that the information provided by the company is limited to health advice, as Gini does not inform users about their geneology in any way.

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Gini is not the only genetic testing service promising to improve their consumers’ health through genetic testing. Another service, Habit combines DNA testing with blood test results to provide a more detailed and ostensible accurate portrait of an individual’s dietary needs. With the slogan “Your body knows what it needs. Now you can too,” Habit advertises itself as allowing for a more holistic approach to personalized health recommendations, and their app even synchronizes with the Fitbit activity tracker for even more data to work with. Habit works by selecting one of seven categories, which include “Protein Seeker” and “Fat Seeker,” that best summarizes a person’s diet needs, and encourages users to stick to a particular diet through an app. Habit offers similar features as Gini, but is cheaper overall, as a one-year subscription costs $49. However, Habit does not offer information about genetic diseases and traits or ancestry.

While acknowledging that genetic composition plays a role in how an individual processes food, doctors and researchers stress that the genetic component only accounts for a small percentage of illnesses like diabetes and obesity that are related to nutritional habits, and as such, relying on genetic testing for personalized diet and exercise information is generally unnecessary. Other factors that influence a person’s health include their age, weight, how they react to sugar and starch, and even their gut microbiomes, none of which are accounted for in DNA tests. Instead, medical professionals point to a person’s behavior as a better predictor of overall health and well-being, and urge patients to focus instead on how to change their habits to improve their overall health over time. However, the general opinion among medical professionals is that if they motivate people to take a more proactive approach in maintaining their health and well-being, genetic tests are not harmful and have the potential to be a useful tool to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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Health advocates and medical professionals caution, however, that results of consumer-grade genetic tests should be taken with a grain of salt. Not every service is held to the same standard of accuracy, and it is possible for DNA samples to be contaminated, either while they are being collected by the consumer or by laboratory technicians mishandling samples. Additionally, while some tests offer information about a person’s predisposition to cancers and other illnesses, this information is incomplete, as only a limited number of diseases can be screened for, which can give people whose test results come back negative for genetic diseases a false understanding of their risks. And deficiencies in the testing procedures can lead to false positives. Because of these concerns, as well as the high likelihood of consumers misinterpreting their test results, consumer level genetic testing services are no replacement for a genetic counselor, who utilize more thorough and specialized testing procedures and are specially trained to conduct and interpret test results.