Soda tax slashes obesity rates in young girls: UK study

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Obesity has kicked the can amongst youngsters after the implementation of a soda tax.

A new study conducted by the University of Cambridge shows that the pop tax significantly reduced rates of obesity among sixth-grade girls in the UK — by about 5,000 fewer cases, they estimated.

In 2018, the UK implemented a sugary drink tax in an attempt to sway manufacturers to lower sodas’ sugar content. Per the study, the UK reports one in 10 children aged four to five, and one in five children aged 10 to 11, face obesity.

In the US, more than 14 million children are classified as obese. The condition comes has been linked to an array of health complications, including type II diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, breathing problems and more.

“We urgently need to find ways to tackle the increasing numbers of children living with obesity, otherwise we risk our children growing up to face significant health problems,” Dr. Nina Rogers, the study’s first author, said in a statement. “That was one reason why the UK’s soft drinks industry levy was introduced, and the evidence so far is promising.”

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The UK-based research linked a national sugar tax to lower rates of obesity.
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In the study, published Thursday in PLOS Medicine, researchers looked at obesity levels of English children between 2014 and 2020, comparing the changes before and after the pop tax.

Following its introduction, there was an 8% relative reduction, indicating the difference between obesity estimates if the sugar tax never existed versus the actual incidence 19 months after the law was passed.

Specifically, the stark drop in obesity rates occurred amongst young girls approximately 10 or 11 years old. In short, the tax seemingly prevented 5,234 obesity cases per year, the report shows. In fact, “deprived areas” of the country, where students consume sugary sodas at comparatively higher rates, saw an estimated 9% reduction.

“We’ve shown for the first time that it is likely to have helped prevent thousands of children each year becoming obese,” Dr. Rogers said of the sugar levy.

“It isn’t a straightforward picture, though, as it was mainly older girls who benefited,” she added. “But the fact that we saw the biggest difference among girls from areas of high deprivation is important and is a step towards reducing the health inequalities they face.”

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School girls aged 10 to 11 saw the biggest drop in cases of obesity.
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Jean Adams, a professor and senior author of the Cambridge study, said that their team’s findings “make sense,” considering that the tax reduces the amount of sugar in soft drinks.

“We know that consuming too many sugary drinks contributes to obesity and that the UK soft drinks levy led to a drop in the amount of sugar in soft drinks available in the UK, so it makes sense that we also see a drop in cases of obesity,” she said, noting that they only found it to be true with girls.

When analyzing obesity rates amongst younger children ages four and five, the research team found no differences. Researchers cited several explanations as to why: young children consume less overall, or the fact that fruit juices are not included in the tax.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear why obesity rates dropped in only girls, though researchers hypothesized that food and drink advertising, which tends to target boys more than girls, could be at play.

young girl jumping rope
The researchers touted their findings as potential proof that the tax can help “thousands of children.”
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While other research has touted sugar taxes as an efficient way to lower obesity rates, others argue it hurts soft drink manufacturers and their employees.

Those watching their hairlines – not just their waistlines – might be less likely to grab a can, though. A study earlier this month revealed that just one can of pop a day could lead to male-pattern baldness.

For the health-conscious, don’t go reaching for that diet cola just yet either – just because it’s zero sugar doesn’t mean it’s zero-harm. Research suggests the sugar-free alternatives could lead to a higher risk of death.

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