As legislators in Springfield continue to work on a spending plan that is fair and provides essential services for all Illinoisans, I urge them to include my Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Act as part of any package that includes new revenue.

The HEAL Act will provide more money for healthy eating and active living programs throughout the state. It is estimated to produce over $600 million in new revenue in the first year, and help to ensure the prosperity of all Illinoisans. Approximately $100 million would support wellness and diabetes and heart disease prevention initiatives in communities in need, including: nutrition education and physical activity in schools and early childhood education programs; support for farmers’ markets, community gardens, and healthier retail stores; support for public health and chronic disease prevention efforts. The other approximately $500 million would support expanded prevention services in Medicaid to prevent and manage diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions.

The HEAL Act imposes a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary drinks. This would result in a 23.5% reduction in sugary drink consumption; a 9.3% reduction in obese youth (ages 2-17) and 5.2% reduction in obese adults (ages 18+); 3,442 fewer Illinoisans with diabetes and $20.7 million decrease in health care costs for diabetes. The tax could produce a $150.8 million decrease in obesity-related healthcare costs.

Taxes on sugar are not a new concept in the United States. Sugar taxes along with taxes on alcohol and tobacco are some of the longest standing taxes, dating back to colonial times.

The HEAL Act does not limit consumer choice. Consumers will still be able to choose whatever they like to drink. But now, Illinois taxpayers subsidize the cost of sugary drinks through higher healthcare costs. This just asks people to pay fairly for their choices. A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago predicts that there would be no net job loss in Illinois with a proposal like the HEAL Act. Bottled water, low-calorie sweetened drinks and diet soda, alternatives for people who want to avoid the tax, are all made by the same companies, brought by the same truck drivers and sold in the same stores that sell regular sugary drinks. The study shows there may even be a slight increase in jobs due to the re-investment of the funds into prevention and health initiatives.

Drinking just one sugary drink a day increases a woman’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 80%, and increases a man’s risk of heart disease by 20%. Sugary drinks have a unique and proven harm. Liquid calories don’t trigger our sense of feeling “full.” We take in excess liquid calories without being aware of it. Research shows that sugary drinks are the biggest contributor of empty calories in the American diet. From 1977 to 2001, the average American’s daily caloric intake increased by nearly 300 calories and 43% of those additional calories came from additional sugary drinks. Consumption of sugary drinks has gone up 500% over the last 50 years. Sugary drinks are the largest single source of daily calories for children age 2-18 and the single largest source of added sugars in the American diet. Rigorous scientific studies show that consuming sugary drinks leads to obesity and diabetes more than any other food category. A child’s odds of being obese increases 60% with each added serving of sugary drink he or she consumes per day.

Many children and families in our communities are suffering from preventable conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Our State’s finances won’t allow for an expansion of services to treat these condition and provide valuable educations on how to avoid them. The solutions is easy, the HEAL Act.