Tax sugary drinks

Written By BY Dr. Goutham Rao Posted: 06/06/2014, 11:40am

We need a tax in Illinois on sugary drinks.

Obesity is a vicious epidemic making too many of our children, families and communities sick. The chronic diseases brought on and exacerbated by obesity — including diabetes, some cancers and heart disease — take a massive toll in premature deaths and mounting public health costs.

Our state requires a comprehensive set of proactive solutions to this public health crisis, starting with the passage of the HEAL Act, which was voted down in the House Revenue and Finance Committee during the spring legislative session. The HEAL Act would place a modest, penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, which are the single biggest source of added sugar in the American diet. Though modest, a penny-per-ounce tax could have a significant impact upon consumption of sugary drinks and help steer Illinois families toward more healthful beverage alternatives. This simple action would also fund efforts to combat obesity. This is why a growing chorus of voices, collaborating through the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, is calling for our Legislature to reintroduce and pass the HEAL Act in the 2015 session.

HEAL Act revenues would be invested in chronic disease prevention and Medicaid. Revenues from the sugary drink tax, estimated at over $600 million in the first year alone, would build a prevention fund to be used for the benefit of our children, families and communities. The funds would go to school health and wellness education, local health efforts for chronic disease prevention, community nutrition initiatives promoting access to healthful local foods, physical activity, oral health, and worksite wellness. Additionally, the HEAL Act would fund an increase in Medicaid coverage for obesity-related treatment and counseling by physicians, dieticians, psychologists, social workers, pharmacists and community-based providers such as the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program. These are all worthwhile investments in the future of our communities’ health and well-being.

But the benefits of the HEAL Act extend beyond prevention funding. The sugary drink tax would discourage consumption with positive health effects. Research has shown that a penny-per-ounce tax, like the one proposed, could result in a 9.3 percent reduction in the number of obese youth. Beverage manufacturers market sugary drinks aggressively to our children. The HEAL Act is our chance to fight back and protect our youth. It could also lead to an estimated 3,442 fewer Illinoisans suffering from diabetes. These are priceless lives enhanced and extended by the smart investment of a mere penny-per-ounce, a penny-per-ounce of prevention.

Finally, as those pennies add up, the HEAL Act is expected to yield a positive impact on our state’s economy. Research shows that the sugary drink tax could create a net statewide increase of 4,500 jobs. A net increase means that any jobs potentially lost because of reduced sugary drink consumption would not only be gained back but actually exceeded, leaving our workforce in a better state. At the same time, the HEAL Act could produce over $150 million in savings in obesity-related health care costs. This makes the HEAL Act a smart investment not only for our state, but for our businesses, our families, and our taxpayers.

Now is the time to join our fellow concerned citizens who are passionate about reversing the obesity epidemic in Illinois. The HEAL Act is an important step in this ongoing battle. Join supporters of this bill — which include respected partners like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Illinois Public Health Institute, and many others — in calling on our state legislators to bring back and pass the HEAL Act in the next session. Together, we must fight to protect our children and communities from threats like obesity and the products that contribute to it. Together, we can raise our voices and bring about a positive change.

To support the HEAL Act, call or email your legislator and ask them to bring it back and pass it in 2015. Visit to learn more.

Goutham Rao, MD, FAHA

Chair, Obesity Committee

American Heart Association

Vice Chair and Clinical Associate Professor

NorthShore University HealthSystem and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

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