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Why I said no to an additional beverage tax in Chicago

Melissa Joy Dobbins

Although I live in Chicago, where there are many politicians, I don’t “talk politics” very often. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about politics or laws or taxes. Of course I do. In fact, I care a lot. As a Chicago based registered dietitian nutritionist for my entire 20+ year career, there is plenty to care about. I became a dietitian to help educate and empower people to make their own, well-informed nutrition decisions – because that is what really matters and what really works. 

Case in point, Chicago politicians are introducing yet another beverage tax. As a dietitian and a mom, I feel very strongly that it should be up to individuals and families to choose what they put in their grocery carts. Politicians should not be making those choices for me, you, or anyone. In my expert opinion, education – not regulation – is the key to helping people make their own, well-informed health choices.

So what can we do about this? I joined the new Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes and sent a letter to my alderman to say “no” to additional beverage taxes, and I encourage you to do the same. After all, it’s not just that we don’t want the government controlling our purchases, research shows that is not effective anyway. Be informed and be heard – sign up for the coalition today.

Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with more than 20 years’ experience helping people enjoy their food with health in mind. She is known as the Guilt-Free RD – “because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” TM. Connect with her on Twitter @MelissaJoyRD, check out her blog, and her new Sound Bites podcast.

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Your diet should be based on facts, not fears

Melissa Joy Dobbins MS, RDN, CDE

I’m proud to say that I grew up in Illinois and have lived in the Chicago area for my entire 20+ year career as a registered dietitian nutritionist. I absolutely love Chicago, but I don’t love all the extra taxes we seem to have. And now, Illinois politicians are proposing yet another tax, the Illinois Beverage Tax. Their proposal would affect more than just soft drinks, it would also include sports drinks, juices, and teas and could result in a price increase of 72% on some beverages. In Chicago, where beverages already have a sales tax and a city tax, this additional tax could result in a single product being taxed three different times.

There is no evidence that beverage taxes have helped reduce the rate of obesity or diabetes, they simply raise revenue for the state. The reason I became a dietitian in the first place was to help people make their own, well-informed decisions about their health and nutrition based on facts and not fear. Therefore, the misleading implication that soda taxes will decrease intake and help curb obesity is of particular concern to me.

As a young child I was on food stamps, and to this day I feel like the richest person in the world if I can afford to buy whatever I want at the grocery store. That doesn’t mean my shopping cart is void of nutrition, it means that I get to choose what I put in my cart and have the right to balance my purchases and my intake of foods according to the 80/20 rule: make healthier choices 80% of the time, and enjoy treats 20% of the time. Balance is key.

As a dietitian, I know firsthand from counseling thousands of clients, that having choices is helpful in determining what works best and creating an individualized plan. Because I think “choice” is so important, I joined the Illinois Coalition Against Beverage Taxes and wrote a letter to my Illinois State Representatives opposing the beverage tax. If you’re an Illinois resident, I encourage you to do the same.


Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with more than 20 years’ experience helping people enjoy their food with health in mind. She is known as the Guilt-Free RD – “because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” TM. Connect with her on Twitter @MelissaJoyRD, check out her blog, and her new Sound Bites podcast.



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New Illinois Soda Tax Won’t Make a Dent in Obesity

Today’s The Southern Editorial calls for the disposing of the potential soda-tax plan for Illinois, which simply serves as an ill-fitting bandaid for "a state with a long-standing and severe problem of overspending." 

Recognizing the seriousness of the widespread national obesity problem, “…one with an increasing total of preventable deaths and a medical price tag that may someday surpass our ability to pay. Obviously, something must be done about the public health crisis of obesity. But it should not include…misguided legislation."

The Southern points out a key flaw in the new legislation: "By itself, the new tax won’t make a significant dent in obesity. Sugar-sweetened beverages are not the only factor in excessive weight, just the newest target on a nutritional shooting range littered with earlier target – fast foods, alcoholic beverages, fried foods, candy, fatty foods, foods that are high in carbohydrates and just plain junk food."

Indeed, we wholehearted echo the editorial’s common sense conclusion “…it is not the function of state government to police our appetites and place unreasonable burdens on the few frills that are within the reach of average working men and women.” 

Read more from the Voice of The Southern: Time to dispose soft-drink tax plan here.

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Tags: IL
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Illinois Soda Tax Bill Stalled In Committee

Yesterday, an Illinois Senate committee heard testimony on a bill that would impose a one-cent-per-ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Opponents of the legislation cited numerous economic ramifications of the bill.  For example, residents would travel to neighboring states to purchase beverages at a cheaper price, hurting local small businesses. This could lead to job loss in addition to additional burdens on struggling families.

Here’s what many people probably don’t know about the proposal: this sugary beverage tax wouldn’t apply only to soda. It would also impose additional costs on sports drinks, juices, and some coffees and teas.

Proponents of the legislation said the potential price hike would dissuade consumers from purchasing the drinks, possibly leading to a decrease in the obesity rate. However, a recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation casts serious doubt on the claim that soda taxes reduce obesity. If anything, it just encourages consumers to seek their calories elsewhere.

Obesity is serious medical condition that deserves a comprehensive public policy response, and while a soda tax is an appealing option for some legislators, it has been shown to have no significant impact on obesity.

The soda tax bill is currently stalled in the Illinois legislature. Let’s hope the lawmakers soon figure out what consumers already know: if we want to get serious about obesity, we need to start with education about moderation and exercise, not with laws and regulations. 

(Photo by Justin Brockie)

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Tags: IL
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Another Soda Tax Proposed, This Time in Illinois

In late February, two Illinois politicians introduced bills (HB 5690 and SB 3524) which would add a ‘penny-per-ounce’ excise tax on beverages like soda. This is not the first time such legislation has been proposed; similar legislation was introduced in 2011, but had a short life in the Illinois House.

One of the sponsors, State Representative Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) stated this legislation could spur over $600 million each year, which would be utilized to pay for Medicaid expenses and other health expenses.

However, people across the state are wondering: What would this cost Illinois? Supporters paint a rosy picture of how implementing a soda tax would impact the state, but it turns out there are serious implications for consumers.

Business advocates are already worrying over employees who lose their jobs if customers quit buying soda due to higher costs, decreasing revenue. In addition, the consumption of soft drinks has decreased 12 percent over the past decades, but obesity rates continued to rise; people are getting their calories elsewhere and soda isn’t the sole cause for obesity that activists like to demonize it as.

More importantly, soft drinks in Illinois are already taxed 6.25 percent, and in Chicago, they’re taxed an additional 3 percent, a total of 9.25 percent! If the proposed soda tax passes through the legislature, consumers would be taxed twice for buying soda. If they live in Chicago, they’re taxed three times. Most Americans oppose a soda tax, and even some supporters would concede that being taxed three times for picking up a 12 pack of soda is too much.

The intention of this bill, improving the public health of Illinois, is noble, but a soda tax is not the correct policy to take. Soda taxes have failed to reduce obesity in the past and the policy simply hurts consumers.

If Illinois is serious about improving public health and reducing obesity--it starts with education, not rules and regulations! At the end of the day, people can, and should, decide for themselves what to eat and feed their families without government intrusion or oversight. 

(Photo credit to Dan)

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Tags: IL
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