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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Washington Obesity Collaborative to Study Impact of Seattle’s Soda Tax on Health, Economics

Seattle’s new soda tax, which took effect Jan. 1, aims to cut sugar consumption and therefore obesity, while raising revenue for a variety of health- and education-related social programs.

[Photo: Dr. Jessica Jones-Smith]

But how will we know if the new soda tax reduces the consumption of sugary drinks? University of Washington researchers have been tasked with finding out, under a four-year study funded by the City of Seattle.

A multi-disciplinary team, led by Dr. Jessica Jones-Smith, and in partnership with Public Health – Seattle & King County, will assess how the new tax changes buying and drinking habits over the next few years. Overconsumption of soda and sugary drinks is a leading cause of obesity in the U.S. and has been linked to diabetes and other health problems.

This is one of many projects conducted by the Collaborative on Obesity Research and Action, or CORA.

“CORA investigators are testing and evaluating innovative approaches to preventing and treating obesity,” said Dr. Jones-Smith, associate professor of health services and of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health, and core faculty member in the nutritional sciences program. The City of Seattle will provide $500,000 annually for four years for the research.

“It’s rare to be able to rigorously evaluate policies as they are implemented,” Dr. Jones-Smith said. “This is a great instance of the City of Seattle prioritizing rigorous research so that we can learn about policy impacts – and adjust if needed.”

CORA projects run the gamut, from evaluating the impact of obesity prevention programs among Latino youth in the lower Yakima Valley of Washington state to the influence of community gardens on diet quality in the Navajo Nation and bariatric surgery for weight loss in a large health care organization.

Established in 2016, CORA has brought together more than 40 experts from health and social sciences to address the biological, social, economic and environmental issues that underlie chronic disease, using innovative tools and technology.

“Over the past year, new collaborations have formed and members have provided an interdisciplinary sounding board for new ideas, research projects and papers,” Dr. Jones-Smith said. “The goals for the next year are to foster continued collaboration and to provide an intellectual hub for the many obesity researchers across the Seattle-based research institutions.”

CORA members are based at the UW, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, VA Puget Sound and Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute.

The Seattle soda tax study is a collaboration across the UW School of Public Health, School of Social Work and Evans School of Public Policy & Governance. The School of Social Work and the Evans School will lead the analysis of the tax impact on jobs and store revenues. Seattle Children’s Research Institute will take part and researchers will include advice from a consortium of experts on tax. In addition, a Seattle-based Community Advisory Board has been involved in planning the evaluation and will continue to provide input over the course of the evaluation.

Learn more about Seattle soda tax evaluation

Learn more about CORA