Will Replacing Vending Machines With Slot Machines Reduce Childhood Obesity?Monday, March 10, 2014
In Western countries, both childhood and adult obesity have long been linked to socioeconomic status – in short – not having enough money (and/or education) can make you fat.
This may be the most obvious explanation for an intriguing finding by Jessica Jones-Smith and colleagues published in JAMA, showing that opening or expansion of American Indian-owned casinos were associated with a significantly decreased risk of childhood obesity in those communities.
The basis for this hypothesis was the simple fact that for some American Indian tribes in the US, casinos provide a significant source of income for the people living in those communities.
The researchers looked at repeated cross-sectional anthropometric measurements from fitness testing of American Indian children (aged 7-18 years) from 117 school districts that encompassed tribal lands in California between 2001 and 2012, of which 57 gained or expanded a casino, 24 had a preexisting casino but did not expand, and 36 never had a casino.
Using changes in the number of slot machines per capita as a measure of economic expansion (each slot machine was associated with an increase of around $550 in per capita annual income), the researchers found that every additional slot machine per capita reduced the probability of childhood overweight and obesity by about 0.2 percentage points.
Given that on average the opening or expansion of a casino resulted in about 13 additional slot machines per capita – the average reduction in obesity probability would be about 2.6% points.
Obviously, as the authors acknowledge, factors other than simple economics may have played a role in this relationship.
Thus, as always with these type of studies, assuming a direct causal relationship between adding slot machines and reducing childhood obesity obesity may be too simplistic.
Less critical observers may nevertheless jump to the conclusion that battling childhood obesity in tribal communities may be as easy as replacing vending machines with slot machines.