'Fed Up'

Richard Smaby
'Fed Up'

FILM REVIEW

Director Stephanie Soechtig teamed with narrator Katie Couric and executive producer Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth) along with a host of other talents to produce a documentary on food that is spellbinding! There are several important messages in Fed Up, not the least of which is that food corporations favor the bottom line over the health of our children. Another is that the old model is false which says that with exercise one can burn off the calories that one ingests. The film mixes statistics with personal stories. The statistics convinced this reviewer that food corporations are implicated in both the obesity and diabetes epidemics. The personal stories reflect how hard it is for children and their families to break the addictive nature of processed foods.

Processed foods provide benefits to the food manufacturers. The manufacturing process can be controlled with all the efficiencies of the production line. It also enables the corporations to more easily reconfigure their products in the event of changes in government regulations. But most insidiously, according to some experts in the film, processed foods enable the addition of sugars to create the individual’s dependence on and eventual addiction to the products. We now know that it is the sugars and other refined carbohydrates that are leading us as a society to experience epidemics of obesity and diabetes. The film argues that the behavior of the processed foods industry parallels the history of tobacco corporations: intentional creation of dependence on the product, awareness of the role the product is playing in harming the consumer of the product, denial of the facts about the harm, and lobbying to get the facts suppressed. The film dates the beginning of this process of marketing, suppression of facts and lobbying to the hearings in 1977 before the US Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs chaired by George McGovern (D-SD). The testimony before his committee resulted in a report unfavorable to industry practice. The processed food corporations fought the release of the report by lobbying congressional representatives and managed to suppress the most damning parts of the report.  

Processed foods are addictive according to the experts cited. The action of sugar and refined carbohydrates on the body is well understood (though denied by the industry). "A calorie is a calorie" is an old myth that dies slowly. The body processes sugars and refined carbohydrates differently from other types of food. The body senses that it has an overload of sugar and sends it directly to the liver to process immediately into fat. This means that sugar is immediately removed from the blood stream and the sensation of hunger resumes more quickly than with foods high in fiber, for example. Even zero-calorie sweeteners contribute to obesity, because they foster the dependency on a sweet taste, which in turn means consumers are more likely to prefer sweeter foods in general.

Cuts in school lunch funding led to the schools buying prepared processed foods instead of controlling the quality of the food through in-house preparation. The budget conscious school managers replaced the personnel they could not afford with the processed foods available from corporations. Now the corporations have a huge market for their products and the opportunity to influence the food choices of the children outside of school, continuing on to their adult years. Sadly, when schools try to prepare healthier meals, only a small fraction of the children choose the healthy meal over the pizza.

While the statistics cited in the film and the description of the body’s way of processing sugar makes a big impression, it is the poignant stories that follow four different teenagers struggling with obesity that has the greatest impact on this audience. Joe age 14 is unable to curb his desire for junk food and eventually gets lap band surgery. Nashwah, 16, likewise eats junk food and will sneak out to get it if there is none at home. Maggie, 12, walks and swims multiple days a week, but can’t seem to drop from 212 lbs. Brady, 15, loses 27 lbs. during the weeks his family goes on a sugar-free diet prepared from scratch at home. He gains it all back. Each child is emotionally distraught over their obesity, but is unable to do what is necessary to lose weight. The film emphasizes that we have to stop blaming the children for lack of willpower and focus on the huge amount of sugar provided in processed foods.

In the film we hear the familiar refrain, "The corporation’s job is to make money." We hear it from the critics of corporate practice. Clearly, if a corporation’s primary reason for being is to make money for its stockholders, then one primary reason for government is to regulate corporations. It is a daunting task; the corporations use their considerable wealth to thwart congressional hearings with powerful lobbying – "Pizza is a vegetable." The film offers a glimmer of hope by citing the successful fight against the tobacco industry.

The film’s website invites its visitors to take part in a challenge: eating sugar-free for 10 days. It’s harder than it sounds; 80% of food products have added sugar. The film urges viewers to lobby their schools to serve healthy meals. The first thing to do is view this life-changing film at The Grand Cinema.