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Soda tax may cut obesity, UK study finds

LONDON — Slapping a 20 percent tax on soda in Britain could cut the number of obese adults by about 180,000, according to a new study.

Though the number works out to a modest drop of 1.3 percent in obesity, scientists say that reduction would still be worthwhile in the United Kingdom, which has a population of about 63 million and is the fattest country in Western Europe. About one in four Britons is obese.

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Researchers at Oxford University and the University of Reading estimated a 20 percent tax on soft drinks would reduce sales by 15 percent and that people would buy beverages like orange juice, milk, and diet drinks instead. They said the tax would have the biggest impact on people under 30, who drink more sugary drinks than anyone else. No funding was provided by any advocacy or industry groups for the study, published online Thursday in the journal, BMJ.

‘‘Every possible alternative that people would buy is going to be better than a sugary drink,’’ said Mike Rayner of Oxford, one of the study authors. ‘‘[The tax] is not a panacea, but it’s part of the solution.’’

Rayner acknowledged the government might shy away from introducing such a hefty tax at a time when the economy is still shaky.

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