Legislation and Public Policy

Massachusetts State HouseHealthy People/Healthy Economy was launched to stem the rising tide of preventable chronic illness, rising health care costs, and the mismatch between health care spending and investments in wellness and prevention. Healthy People/Healthy Economy employs a variety of strategies, including legislative efforts that should contain the following:

  • Support access to physical activity for all students.

  • Promote the establishment and success of businesses that create or market healthy foods in underserved areas (“food deserts”), through tax credits and business assistance.

  • Repeal the sales tax exemption on candy and soda.

  • Continue support for locally-based strategies to improve public health.

  • Encourage health and wellness through literacy and metrics.

  • Invest in proven public health interventions and reform of health care payment and insurance design to support primary prevention strategies.

2013 - 2014 Legislative Session

House Bill 2634: An Act to Reduce Childhood Obesity, sponsored by Rep. Kay Khan (Summary)

Testimony on House Bill 2634
September 2013

Paul Grogan, President d CEO, The Boston Foundation

Valerie Fleishman, Executive Director, NEHI

Dr. Natalie Stavas, Children's Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center

The Honorable Kay Kahn, State Representative

Maddie Ribble, Interim Executive Director, Massachusetts Public Health Association

Massachusetts currently exempts the sales tax on candy and soda by listing them essential items, thereby granting preferential tax status to products directly linked to obesity. At the same time, Massachusetts law states that physical education shall be taught in schools, but does not prescribe the amount of time spent or the curriculum. This legislation will require physical activity be part of the school day, provide funds for establishing physical activities in the schools by removing the sales tax exemption, and measure the results.

Section 1: Removes the sales tax exemption for candy and soft drinks
More than 30 states now have sales taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks. Massachusetts is one of only 16 states that do not tax these items at all. This measure would generate approximately $52 million. 

Section 2: Places tax revenue generated by the sales tax on soft drinks and candy in the Wellness Prevention Trust
This would direct the $53 million in tax revenue to the Wellness Fund, created by the payment reform law and administered by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for competitive grants. 

Sections 3 and 4: Funds Physical Activity programming in Schools
These sections make schools districts eligible for competitive grants available through the Wellness Trust Fund so long as they are used to reimburse schools for the costs of embedding physical activity within the school day. 

Sections 5 and 6: Including Body Mass Indexing in Student’s Physical examinations
These sections codify a regulation developed by the Public Health Council to measure the BMI of students in the first, fourth, seventh and tenth grade, which is used as a way to check if a child has a healthy weight compared with other children of the same age and sex. These results will be mailed or directly communicated to the parents or guardians of each student screened. 

Section 7: Physical activity for all students
Massachusetts law states that physical education shall be taught in schools, but does not prescribe the amount of time spent or the curriculum. This legislation requires that if physical education classes are not offered, students will have at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity in the classroom or at recess. Download a PDF of this summary with links to related resources for sections of the legislation. Download a PDF of this summary. Download a PDF of the bill.

Governor Patrick’s FY14 Budget
In his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014, Governor Deval Patrick included a proposal to remove this sales tax exemption, generating an estimated $53 million in annual revenue. On the day of the budget release, our Coalition issued a statement of support.  

The bill currently is in a study committee.

Healthy Foods


Administrative support for the
Healthy People/Healthy Economy Initiative
is provided by the Boston Foundation.

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