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Seattle's once controversial soda tax may be paying off via children's health

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A new University of Washington study concludes Seattle's soda tax is helping lower children’s body fat.

Seattle is among seven U.S. cities that have imposed such taxes in an effort to curb the consumption of sugary beverages that have been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Earlier research showed the tax has deterred people from buying sugary beverages since the tax took effect in 2018.

RELATED: Seattle soda tax works in curbing consumption, study says

Now, UW School of Public Health Prof. Jessie C. Jones-Smith said the tax not only had an impact on people’s pocketbook, but it also may be affecting their health. Jones-Smith is lead author of the latest report on the tax, which focused on the policy's health outcomes; basically, she wanted to know whether people buying fewer sugary drinks translated to better health.

"If people really decreased their purchasing, or not substituting with other caloric beverages or snack foods, maybe this could actually have an impact on BMI," she said.

RELATED: Seattle's low income communities benefit from soda tax revenue, UW study says

Researchers tracked the height and weight of more than 6,000 children, between the ages of 2 and 18, over five years. In that time, researchers found a "statistically significant reduction in BMI," or body mass index, among the children included in the study.

"The findings of this cohort study suggest that the Seattle sweetened beverage tax was associated with a modest decrease in [BMI] among children living in Seattle compared with children living in nearby nontaxed areas who were receiving care within the same health care systems," the study concludes. "Taken together with existing studies in the U.S., these results suggest that sweetened beverage taxes may be an effective policy for improving children’s BMI."

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Jones-Smith said their next study will look at whether the tax has a similar impact on adults.

According to the study published in JAMA Network Open, this research was supported by the City of Seattle. The city was not involved in designing the study or preparing data, but "a review team consisting of Seattle City Council member staffers, City Budget Office staff, the Office of the City Auditor, and Finance and Administrative Services participated in the conduct of the study by approving our evaluation plans."

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