Study: Sugary Drink Taxes Linked to Decreased Obesity in Seattle


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Over the last several years, cities across the US have taxed sugary drinks to reduce the consumption of these beverages and prioritize the health of their communities.  

In 2018, Seattle joined this wave of cities in placing a tax on sugary drinks.  

At 1.75 cents per ounce, the tax was created to disincentivize the consumption and purchase of sugary drinks and improve community health.  

But did it work? 

A recent study published on the JAMA Network sought to answer this very question by comparing the health of children within the taxable area to those in neighboring areas. 

This is what they found. 

Sugary Drink Tax Studies 

Studying the relationship between the sugary drink tax and health is nothing new. 

In fact, previous studies on taxes have pointed to a decrease in grams of sugar purchased, resulting in lower calorie consumption among children, the Seattle study cited.  

Of the studies on the association between the tax and children’s weight conducted abroad, one concluded that there was no relationship between the two and the other observed a decrease in obesity among young girls.  

A study in the US examined the impact of the tax in three cities: Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Oakland 

The study deduced that the sugary beverage tax amounted to a decrease in average body max index (BMI) among all children, especially in girls.  

Study on the Seattle Sugary Drink Tax 

The Seattle study built upon the foundation of the earlier studies by measuring BMI in children in urban areas and examined electronic health records to base any change on exposure to the tax, according to the study.   

Researchers studied the records of children between ages 2 and 18 from Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2019, in areas where the tax was prevalent, compared to children from neighboring areas.  

After studying the data, researchers found that children living in taxable areas had a greater decrease in BMIp95 compared to neighboring areas.  

BMIp95 is a percentage used to show how a child’s BMI compares to the 95th percentile, which is when a child is classified as obese.  

The study revealed that BMIp95 dropped 2% after the tax was implemented, compared with a 1% decrease in children living outside the taxable area, according to a U.S. News & World Report article about the study 

Further examination of the data also supported that Seattle children had a larger BMIp95 decrease from before the tax and after.  

The result was clear across several demographics, including both genders, Black and white children, and those living in high and low-poverty neighborhoods. 

“We are not aware of any policies, programs or events that we think would explain this differential decrease among Seattle children compared to the well-matched children with similar BMI trends prior to the sugary drink tax,” lead study author Jesse Jones-Smith, a professor in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health at the University of Washington School of Public Health, told U.S. News & World Report 

Sugary Drinks and Latinos 

The Seattle study results are important because of the prevalence of sugary drink consumption in the United States, where 1 in 5 children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Obesity is known to disproportionately affect certain demographics, including adolescents, Latino and Black children, and children from low-income households. 

Sugary Drink Tax Washington Pass

Sugary drink consumption is among several contributors to childhood obesity, which puts children at higher risk for diabetes and other related conditions and illnesses.  

Latino children tend to be more susceptible to sugary drinks with many having their first sugary drink by the age of 2 and consume more sugary drinks than the average child, according to a Salud America! research review.  

Latino children who consumed sugary drinks are at a higher risk for severe obesity, compared to Latino toddlers who didn’t have sugary drinks at 31% lower odds.  

By increasing the prices on sugary drinks by just 10%, consumption could drop by 12.1%.  

Efforts to increase the price of sugary drinks, such as the drink tax in Seattle, could result in a 2.9 percentage point decrease of Latino childhood obesity. 

Healthy Eating Research created a toolkit to help healthcare systems include beverage screenings in electronic health records and ask parents about their children’s sugary drink habits.  

The goal is to identify “unhealthy beverage consumption patterns in young children and [help] families develop healthy beverage habits,” according to the toolkit. 

get the toolkit

Introducing Healthy Sugary Drink Alternatives 

Another issue driving higher sugary drink consumption in Latino children is access to clean water. 

Latino children consume less water than white children and are more likely to view tap water as unsafe to drink 

Over half of Mexican American children (56%) drank bottled water rather than tap water, compared to 35% of white children, according to NHANES data 

One of the best ways to increase access to safe drinking water is by reaching children in schools 

That’s why Salud America! created an Action Pack to help school leaders push for Water Bottle Fountains.  

Implementing these refillable water stations can help improve access to water for Latino and all children! 


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Healthy Lifestyles, Water

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