Casinos Prevent Childhood Obesity?

The Journal of the American Medical Association this week published a study showing that opening or expanding casinos on American Indian tribal lands was associated with more economic resources for the community and less risk of childhood obesity.

And you thought it was all about opening fresh food markets!

As interesting as this study is, it provides more questions than answers. It’s worth your attention because economic resources have a well-known link to obesity risk. Within a developed economy, poverty and wealth disparities seem to lead to a greater risk of obesity.

In the present study, investigators found the economic resources that came with a new or expanded casino were linked to less obesity risk for children in those communities. But the mechanisms are not entirely clear. Because this is an ecological study — when the environment changed, obesity rates changed — all we have is an association. We don’t have a definitive cause and effect relationship.

What we do have is a reminder that our assumptions that we know how to prevent obesity need testing. They are often wrong and the answers are not simple.

The role of poverty, disparities, and discrimination appears to be important. Translating that knowledge into effective strategies deserves attention.

And just for the record, we doubt a casino in every neighborhood will do the trick.

Click here to read more from Reuters, here to read the study, and here to read more about economic growth and obesity.

Slot Machines, photograph © Marionzetta / flickr

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