“You’re in charge,” Laurie David told me last night. “You’re in charge. Set a date. Tell them they’re going.” David told me this when I mentioned taking my kids to see “Fed Up”, the documentary she executive produced with Katie Couric and which opens on May 9.
She doesn’t need to worry. They will be going, and you should be going, too. I had the opportunity to preview the film last night in Philadelphia, and it’s a powerful movie that lays out the dangerous conflict between the public’s health and the promotion of U.S. agricultural products.
Before the preview, David, who also executive produced the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," commented that documentary films are the investigative journalism of today. “Fed Up” goes deep into one of the great public health epidemics of our time – the rise in obesity and metabolic disease. One of the many things the film makes clear: It’s not just the obese who are suffering from metabolic problems. About 40 percent of thin people have the same metabolic issues as the obese. No one is exempt from the possible health issues that the ingredients in processed foods, most notably sugar, can cause.
In her introduction to the film, Katie Couric reveals that after covering news report after news report on the rise of obesity and the solutions that didn’t work, she had a thought.
“What if,” Couric says, “our solutions were making things worse? What if our whole approach to the epidemic has been dead wrong?”
Most people believe, because they are taught, that the solution has to do with personal responsibility. Eat less. Exercise more. A calorie is a calorie so just restrict your calories. Don’t worry about what foods those calories come from. Will power is all you need, and if you aren’t loosing weight, it’s your fault. You simply don’t have enough will power.
“Fed Up” rejects that theory and asserts that we are not going to exercise ourselves out of the obesity problem. It is much more complex, and the film follows four obese teens who are desperately (and I do mean desperately) trying to eat healthier and exercise more. They meet with failure after failure because they are addicts — food addicts. They're addicted to many of the 80 percent of the foods on the grocery store shelf that have added sugar. Scientific studies have shown evidence that sugar can be eight times more addictive than cocaine. Will power and personal responsibility do not work in the face of addiction.
Why is there such an abundance of sugar in our diets? The continuous addition of sugar into our foods over several decades is the consequence of government policies, the scientific formulation of food to manipulate our brains, and food companies that want to sell more food so they successfully block legislation that would set standards for sugar intake.
The overwhelming science shows how added sugars in a diet cause metabolic diseases. Seventy-five percent of healthcare dollars go to the treatment of these illnesses, making it not just a public health crisis but also an economic crisis that is only going to get worse unless something is done.
The film connects several pieces of information that are probably already living inside your head. At least it did for me. I’m no Marion Nestle or Michael Pollan (both of whom appear in the film) when it comes to understanding the complexities of food and politics, but I do have some knowledge.
I understand that the government gives the overwhelming majority of agriculture subsidies to corn that gets turned into high fructose corn syrup while giving little subsidies to broccoli and Brussels sprouts. At the same time, the USDA recommends that half of our plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables and sugar should be used in moderation (without defining moderation). I know that foods that never need sugar added to them, like tomato sauce, have added sugars. I’ve spent time learning and educating others about food marketing to children. Personally, I have struggled my entire life with will power and believed my food issues are solely my own fault.
“Fed Up” takes pieces of knowledge like these and others and connects the dots to form a picture of our current health epidemic. When the picture becomes clear, viewers are left with an urgency that something must be done.
What can be done? Former President Bill Clinton, who is interviewed throughout the film, says, “We have to change the way we produce and consume food.”
It’s an uphill battle, but a battle that can be won. “Fed Up” is a call to action. The film invites all of us to join the battle that must be won to ensure that today’s children aren’t the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents – something that’s a real danger because of the rise of metabolic disease in both the obese and the thin.
The movie’s website has a list of theaters that will be showing “Fed Up.”
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