Legislators introduce Bill to provide funding for Wellness and Medicaid through tax on sugary beverages

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Representative Robyn Gabel (D-18th District) and Senator Mattie Hunter (D- 3rd District) have introduced a bill [HB 5690/ SB 3524] to fight the Illinois obesity epidemic and invest in our residents’ health through a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary beverages. Introduced with the support of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Act is estimated to raise over $600 million for prevention and health care.

“We know our communities are suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  It is critically important to generate revenue to invest in solutions to these complex problems, especially in communities that are burdened the most by these diseases,” said Representative Robyn Gabel (D-18th District).

Studies show that an excise tax like the one in the bill may reduce consumption of sugary beverages. A study in Illinois found that in just one year, the excise tax could lead to a 9.3% reduction of  childhood obesity, could reduce 3,400 new cases of diabetes , and may save taxpayers more than $150 million in state and private healthcare spending.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single biggest source of added sugar in the American diet.  Each day, more research continues to show the harmful and dangerous impacts of sugar.  The sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages not only raises one’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and obesity, the human and financial toll is a burden we can no longer afford,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute, the convening organization of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity.

The proposal places half of the new revenue into a Wellness Fund to support initiatives that promote nutrition, physical activity, school health and wellness, oral health, access to healthy foods, worksite wellness, and community-level public health leadership around obesity prevention.  The other half of the funds will support the Illinois Medicaid Program, expanding the set of prevention services available to Medicaid recipients as well as restoring cuts to the program from previous years, such as coverage for adult dental care.

“My district has been disproportionately hurt by the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease epidemics, as well as the cuts to health services over the past several years,” says Senator Mattie Hunter (D- 3rd District). “This initiative will help us invest in solutions we know work and help people live healthier lives.”

Polls in other states show that the public supports a tax on sugary beverages when the funds go to help children and families stay healthy. “We support the Heal Act for its health benefits and because it will generate money to invest in programs we know work. Funding in Medicaid for adult dental care  is crucial to the overall health of Illinois’ adults, and funding for prevention initiatives like physical education and healthier food in schools and child care centers, bike and walking paths in communities, farmers markets and community gardens are important ways of reducing our obesity rates,” says, Beth Fiorini, MS, President of the Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators.

The Act places a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary beverages, which include beverages with added caloric sweeteners, like soda (pop), fruit drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, energy drinks and sports drinks. Not included in the tax are diet or no-calorie drinks, milk or milk substitutes, and un-sweetened seltzer water.  Because its an excise tax, consumers will see the extra cost before they make their purchase.  “Up to one third of cancers are caused by poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and overweight and obesity.  I support this bill because it would make sugary drinks that are full of empty calories less appealing and make it easier for people to choose healthier beverages that promote a healthy weight,” said Rhonda Pour, volunteer for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

According to Dr. Goutham Rao, Chairman of the American Heart Association’s Obesity Committee, who also serves as the Vice Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Chicago and Associate Director of the Center for Clinical Research Informatics of the NorthShore University Health System, “Sugar sweetened beverages are an ideal target for obesity prevention for several reasons:  SSBs are the number one source of added sugar in American diets; The evidence linking SSBs to obesity and related risks is very strong; While obesity is complex and has many causes, discouraging SSB consumption is a simple, single behavior which can have a positive impact; Assessment and education about SSBs is relatively simple compared to assessing overall diet and providing dietary counseling (about food labels, for example); Assessing SSB consumption can be as a simple as asking, ‘Do you drink anything besides water? Or, what did you drink besides water yesterday?’ If we are serious about tackling the problem of obesity, we should start with a target, like SSBs, which will allow us to have early and significant success.”

Organizations that have signed on in support of this Act include (list in formation):

* AIDS Foundation of Chicago

* American Cancer Society- Cancer Action Network

* American Heart Association, Midwest Affiliate

* EverThrive Illinois (formerly the IL Maternal and Child Health Coalition)

* Illinois Academy of Family Physicians

* Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance

* Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators

* Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics

* Illinois Public Health Association

* Illinois Public Health Institute

* Illinois Society of Public Health Educators (ISOPHE)

* McLean County Wellness Coalition

* Ounce of Prevention Fund

* SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana

* Seven Generations Ahead

* Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center

More information about the HEAL Act is available via factsheets on the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity’s website-www.preventobesityil.org. More information about the health impact of sugary beverages can be found at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/.

Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity: www.preventobesityil.org

The primary goal of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity is to ensure that trends in obesity in Illinois are stable by 2015 and moving downward by 2018. The statewide coalition of over 140 organizations works to implement solutions to the obesity epidemic through coordinated and comprehensive policy, systems, and environmental changes.