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A scene from <em>Fed Up</em>.
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A scene from Fed Up.

An inconvenient sweet tooth

Movies | An ambitious new food documentary blames sugar and the food industry for America’s ballooning obesity problem

The package of frustration, pity, sadness, and despair you feel for the young people struggling to lose weight in the documentary Fed Up is all too familiar. You probably already feel those emotions for someone in your life: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers—perhaps even yourself.

The new film, narrated by TV journalist Katie Couric and released in select theaters, is an ambitious, straight-shooting project. It tries to crunch into 98 minutes all the complex, multi-layered, messy factors and policies that contribute to America’s national weight gain. The finished product is both too short and too long—too short to ask enough questions and provide real solutions but too long for its fat-skimming conclusion that we’re fat because Big Food is the devil, and sugar is the drug it peddles to our children.

For many modern health nuts, Fed Up is less a revelation and more a dramatized, lengthy confirmation of what they already know and believe: Processed food is bad, so we need to eat more whole foods. The U.S. government is in schizophrenic cahoots with food industries, even while trying to advise national health. Fat is the vilified victim that shouldered the blame while the real culprit, sugar, crept its way into 80 percent of our grocery food items.

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For those who have been stocking up on Special K “low-calorie” chips, Fed Up points out a startling fact sure to make its audience angry, especially as it debunks the conventional diet wisdom drilled into the nation’s collective mind for decades. All that talk about how “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, so losing weight is as simple as eating less and moving more?” That’s junk. The low-fat, fiber-rich “nutrition” bar you’re choking down? Just a slightly less junky junk.

Whatever your level of nutritional intellect, the real statistics in America are cause for alarm. When the rise of lap-band advertisements, gym memberships, and “fat-free” yogurt mirrors the rise of the national rate for obesity, something is amiss. When a renowned scientist who leads an obesity research center accepts $2.5 million from beverage companies—and then claims there is “not enough solid evidence” that soda consumption abetted America’s obesity crisis—something has gone awry. And when a 13-year-old boy shows signs of metabolic syndrome and a 14-year-old, 400-pound kid needs surgery because he might die from weight complications, something is very, very wrong.

Fed Up is more war cry than substantial investigation. It aims to do for food what An Inconvenient Truth, also produced by Laurie David, did for climate change. If America staged and won a war against Big Tobacco, why can’t it have the same success with Big Food, the film reasons? It suggests simple (but controversial) solutions, such as sticking warning labels on certain foods, printing daily percentage recommendations for sugar on nutrition labels, and mandating equal time for ads promoting fresh fruits and vegetables. Just cook more at home, one food writer advises. Ban fast food from school cafeterias, health experts campaign.

But is it that simple? Research shows warning labels don’t cause behavioral change, especially when it comes to food choices. Unlike cigarettes, people can’t just “give up” food. Many communities don’t have easy access to fresh produce. A single mother juggling three part-time jobs won't always have the energy or time to cook a well-balanced dinner every night, while parents who raise their children on steamed kale and quinoa cannot always control what they eat outside the home.

Although a much-needed wake-up call, Fed Up doesn’t give enough consideration to the abusive relationship we share with food, which goes deeper than profit-mongering corporations, misinformation, and chemical imbalances. It goes all the way to total depravity—humankind’s broken relationship with God and thus His creation, which outside of God transforms food from a blessing to a curse.

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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