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Illinois Picks Up the Sugary Drink Tax Torch


On February 19, Illinois state Sen. Mattie Hunter and state Rep. Robyn Gabel introduced legislation that would tax sugary beverages to raise money for Medicaid and community wellness.

The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Act, would impose a one-cent tax on sugary beverages with more than 5 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. An estimate from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity finds that such a tax can earn the state more than $600 million per year.

Results for this type of legislation across the country have had mixed results, but are gaining momentum. Maryland has eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages from childcare facilities, and Berkeley, California, voters passed a measure similar to the one in Illinois last year. However, even though a majority of voters in San Francisco, California, approved the tax, it didn’t receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass

According to the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, the estimated $600 million would be split between community wellness (including, for example, funding for healthy food access initiatives, public health departments and school health and wellness programs) and a Medicaid expansion that would help cover preventive services, adult dental services and more.

In addition to the monetary benefits, a report from Frank Chaloupka of the Cook County Department of Public Health found that such a tax would result in decreases in sugary drink consumption, lower obesity rates, fewer cases of diabetes and reduced spending on health care costs.

“Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugar in American diets and the evidence linking sugary drinks to obesity and related risks is conclusive,” said Dr. Goutham Rao, Chairman of the American Heart Association's Obesity Committee. “If we are serious about tackling the problem of obesity, we should start with a target, like sugary drinks, which will allow us to have early and significant success.”