By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Last year, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians celebrated a massive casino expansion that has created new jobs and boosted the economy of the Cherokee Indian Reservation even further than before. But, it may have done even more.
According to a new study released on Wednesday, March 5, “opening or expanding a casino was associated with increased economic resources and decreased risk of childhood overweight/obesity.”
The study was conducted by Jessica C. Jones-Smith, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of International Health; William H. Dow, PhD, of the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health; and independent consultant Kristal Chichlowska, PhD.
Sheena Kanott, Cherokee Choices program manager, related, “We only reach a percentage of enrolled kids with our program activities. Of that percentage, we have seen a decrease in numbers over the years. “
But, she noted “that a specific study hasn’t been undertaken of the entire child population of the Eastern Band Cherokee Indians – so to say that this is a direct correlation as a whole is just speculation.”
Kanott continued by saying, “Social determinates of health (conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age) can affect obesity rates in a large way. For example, communities that have low incomes are more likely to have higher rates of obesity. This could be because lower income families cannot afford nutrient rich foods and instead eat fast food which is cheaper and has very little or no nutritional value.”
From 2001-12, the researchers studied American Indian children (age 7-18) in 117 California school districts that “encompassed” tribal lands. The children in areas where casinos were introduced or expanded were compared with those who lived in areas where casinos either weren’t introduced or expanded.
The researchers stated that every slot machine added in expansions equaled an increase in per capita annual income of $245-$836 and also equaled a decrease probability of childhood obesity by .19 percentage points.
Dow related, “Casinos were associated with an increase in incomes and decrease in poverty rates among American Indians living on the tribal lands with casinos, possibly due to better paying jobs. Increased incomes can allow families to purchase healthier and less fattening foods, and they can also decrease instability in family life associated with worse dietary habits.”
Dow continued, “We did not measure diets though, so cannot directly test these hypotheses. Another mechanism that we will be exploring in future research is to what extent casino revenue was invested in community resources such as recreation facilities that could promote more physical activity among youth.”