(Bloomberg) -- The introduction of a “sugar tax” on the soft-drinks industry in the UK may have helped to prevent thousands of older primary school children from becoming obese, according to a new study. 

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found the the levy was associated with an 8% relative reduction in obesity levels in girls aged 10-11, according to the findings published in the journal PLOS Medicine. The estimates suggest around 5,000 cases of obesity per year may have been prevented among girls in the age range.

The study, which found an association rather than a causal link, showed no change in obesity prevalence in boys of that age or in younger children as a result of the tax. 

“We know that consuming too many sugary drinks contributes to obesity,” said Jean Adams, one of the authors of the study. “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, although we only found this in girls.”

The government imposed a tax on sugary drinks in April 2018 to help tackle childhood obesity. The Cambridge researchers used population data to track the prevalence of obesity before the tax was introduced and after. 

“It is difficult to directly attribute a change in obesity levels to a single factor,” said Simon Steenson, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “The announcement and implementation of the sugar tax occurred alongside a program of voluntary sugar reduction in other products commonly consumed by children, including biscuits, breakfast cereals, yogurts, and confectionery.” 

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