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Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax Linked to Reduced Child BMI

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Seattle’s decision to implement a tax on sweetened beverages has yielded promising results in addressing childhood obesity. A recent longitudinal cohort study delved into the effects of this tax on children’s body mass index (BMI), utilizing data from two prominent healthcare systems. By comparing children residing in Seattle with those in neighboring nontaxed areas, researchers assessed the impact of the tax over a five-year period. The findings provide valuable insights into how fiscal policies can influence public health, particularly among younger populations.

A study evaluating the impact of Seattle’s sweetened beverage tax on children’s BMI has demonstrated a modest but significant decrease in BMI percentile among children living in taxed areas. The tax, implemented on January 1, 2018, was set at 1.75 cents per ounce on sweetened beverages. Researchers analyzed data from 6,313 children in Seattle and compared it with those from three surrounding counties. The study utilized synthetic difference-in-differences (SDID) models to reweight comparison samples and optimize matching to pretax trends.

Study Design and Methodology

Anthropometric data were collected from electronic medical records of children aged 2 to 18 years from two health care systems: Kaiser Permanente Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. Participants were required to have at least one weight measurement annually between 2015 and 2019 and to reside in Seattle or urban areas of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The analysis aimed to ensure no participants moved between taxed and nontaxed areas and excluded those with recent histories of cancer, bariatric surgery, or pregnancy.

The primary outcome measured was BMI expressed as a percentage of the 95th percentile (BMIp95) for age and sex, following CDC growth charts. Secondary models assessed within-person changes using one pretax and one posttax measurement in 22,779 children, with fine stratification weights to balance baseline confounders. Data analysis was conducted from August 2022 to March 2024.

Key Findings and Implications

Results indicated a larger decrease in BMIp95 for children living in Seattle compared to those in the comparison areas. Specifically, the primary SDID model showed a decrease of 0.90 percentage points in BMIp95 (95% CI, -1.20 to -0.60; P

These findings suggest that sweetened beverage taxes could be an effective strategy for improving children’s BMI. The study’s results align with previous research in the US, indicating that fiscal policies targeting sugary drink consumption can contribute to better health outcomes among children.

Practical Inferences for Policymakers

– Implementing sweetened beverage taxes can lead to a measurable decrease in childhood obesity rates.
– Policymakers should consider such taxes as part of a broader strategy to address public health concerns.
– Longitudinal data is critical in assessing the long-term impact of fiscal policies on health outcomes.
– Similar studies should be conducted in other cities to validate these findings and guide policy decisions.

The study concludes that the Seattle sweetened beverage tax has been associated with modest improvements in BMI among children, suggesting potential benefits of similar measures in other regions. Future research should continue to explore this association with longitudinal data across various US cities to strengthen the evidence base for such public health interventions.

Original Article: JAMA Netw Open. 2024 May 1;7(5):e2413644. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.13644.

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