Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
Fed Up is the 2014 documentary that takes on the food industry in its role as a major contributor to childhood obesity. Through interviews with pediatric experts, politicians (including a former U.S. president), parents, children, and food industry representatives, Fed Up confronts common beliefs about diet and exercise, explains how fatty and high-sugar foods are addicting, and reveals how type 2 diabetes, which was once known as adult-onset diabetes, has become a major health concern in children.
According to the documentary, in 1980, there were zero reported incidences of type 2 diabetes in American adolescents. Just 30 years later, in 2010, type 2 diabetes cases among youths skyrocketed to 57,638. In revealing how this happened, the film, narrated by journalist Katie Couric, points to corporate greed in the food industry assisted by a lack of government restrictions. As an example, in 1977, the Dietary Goals for the United States guidelines, also known as the McGovern Report, suggested Americans eat less fat, foods lower in cholesterol, less refined and processed sugar, and more complex carbohydrates and fiber, but the meat, dairy, egg, and sugar industries united to attack the report, which was dropped.
In the coming years, people were encouraged to “get physical” and also buy low-fat or no-fat foods, a concept that the food industry embraced as a way to market additional products while still keeping items high in fat on grocery store shelves. Instead of making the lower-fat food healthier, however, the food industry substituted sugar for fat in these new products to enhance flavor. Sugar, the film explains, is eight times more addictive than cocaine. As a result, between 1977 and 2000, Americans doubled their intake of sugar. Today the recommended daily allowance of sugar, 48 grams per 2,000-calorie diet, can easily be exceeded in one meal. In fact, a can of Coca-Cola alone contains 39 grams of sugar and a 20-ounce bottle of Vitaminwater, a beverage that was purchased from Glaceau by the Coca-Cola Company in 2007 and that many people consider a healthy alternative, contains 32 grams of sugar.
Government subsidies given to independent farmers and corporate farms have also contributed to the obesity problem in America, the film states, by forcing them to produce more corn. The corn is then processed into inexpensive sugar products such as high fructose corn syrup and high-carbohydrate items like chips, breads, and cereals, which turn immediately into sugar in the body. The documentary explains by way of medical experts how sugar is processed in the liver: When the liver is taxed, the pancreas comes to its aid by producing excessive amounts of insulin hormones, which turn the sugar into fat. High levels of insulin can block the brain from receiving the signal that it is full. Therefore, the brain believes it is starving, making the person feel tired, listless, and hungry and causing him or her to crave and continue to consume calories. Even diet soft drinks are taken to task in the film as they can cause insulin resistance by tricking the body into increasing insulin levels and interfering with a person’s metabolism.
Fed Up, directed by the award-winning Stephanie Soechtig, leaves no stone unturned in its search for contributors to the childhood obesity problem, including the advertising industry for marketing junk food to kids, the fast-food industry for enticing children with toys, the well-intended but misdirected Let’s Move exercise program of former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is stuck in the dilemma of promoting public health while at the same time encouraging food consumption. The film is most impactful, though, when it focuses on the words of the children who suffer from obesity as well as their parents, who think they are doing right by their kids.
In observance of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, reserve and check out Fed Up through Herrick Library’s curbside pickup.