I recently got around to watching the American documentary Fed Up. The film has been out in the US since May but has only first hit the Danish Netflix now. The film covers the food industry and their role in the global obesity epidemic and it’s a seriously scary movie! The American rhetoric and pathos with young children and their tearful faces and sobbing voices can sometimes seem a bit too much seen with European eyes but it is none the less effective and you need to be covered with teflon not to be affected by it. But even if you set all that aside, it still paints a gloomy picture of our present and of our future.
The film shows how the food industry in the US has infiltrated the whole system from dietary guidelines to the food they serve in public schools (McDonalds, PizzaHut anyone?). All this in a country where french fries and pizza count as a vegetable in your 5 a day and where soda and fruit juices are what’s used to quench your thirst.
It shows a country where 1/3 of the population will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by 2050 if the trend continues. That’s one in three! We’ve also reached the year where more people in the world will die from obesity than from famine and we’re looking at the first generation of kids expected to live shorter lives than their parents. That makes me really sad.
The film also shows unhappy families with overweight children or teens who really want to do right to correct the damage. So they fill up the cabinets with fat free foods because fat free whole grains and fibres are very important when you want to lose weight. Almost simultaneously, we see the young children looking into the camera and saying that they don’t know what to do about their weight anymore because nothing seems to work! I do all the right things, one girl says sobbing, I go swimming four times per week and I go for long walks with my dog in the weekends but I just get heavier and heavier.
We often say that people don’t become obese from lack of information and that has some truth to it. But knowing what is the right thing to do and actually doing it are two completely different disciplines. However, this film showed how poor knowledge of what makes you fat is also still a huge problem. These families were taking the low fat message really seriously and in doing so they were eating tons of fat free processed foods. In the end of the film, when they were put on a sugar free detox, they suddenly lost tons of weight effortlessly. When they later returned to their old diet, they gained it all back. Tragic, really!
THE CALORIE ARGUMENT
The film features several experts who explain the problem in government still holding on to the calorie myth (just eat less and move more) because it gives the food industry a bulletproof argument against all types of criticism saying that their products are making people obese. Their answer is that their specific product is not making anybody fat, it’s the excess calories that are making people fat. And when it comes to excess calories, you’ll gain weight whether the calories came from junk food or real food. Clever! Because it holds some truth (but not all). We just never get around to discussing why it’s so difficult, if not impossible, to NOT take in more calories than you need when you eat foods that are designed to make you want to eat more and more and more!
Gary Taubes made a very important point when he said that the out of control appetite and the inactivity isn’t the cause of obesity but that obesity causes out of control appetite and inactivity. Important difference!
TEAMING UP WITH THE FOOD INDUSTRY
The film also shows how the food industry sponsors research to conclude that sodas play no role in obesity or whatever conclusion they want. It also shows how the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in 2009 teamed up with Coca-Cola on the development of educational materials to teach consumers how to make the right choices and incorporate the products they love into a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. After announcing the partnership, 20 doctors resigned from the AAFP in protest. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), a professional group for dietitians, have strong ties to several food companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kelloggs etc. So that’s both your doctor and your dietician. Both places you would go for counseling about your health.
The food and sugar industry in the US were so nervous about his upcoming film that they made the site FedUpFacts.com (no link is intentional) and bought tons of GoogleAds to make sure their site came up on the search engines instead of the real movie’s site. On the site, the food industry defends themselves from the massive criticism in the film and paints a pretty picture of all the good things they do for public health.
TERROR FROM WITHIN
My favorite quote from the film was when Dr. Harvey Karp said:
“If a foreign nation was causing our children to become obese, that’s going to affect their health and hurt their happiness, cause them to be depressed, have poor self-esteem—if a foreign nation were doing that to our children, we’d probably go to war. We would defend our families. So why do we accept this from our own country?”
Or when a spokesperson from McDonalds while defending McDonald’s advertising to children, said:
Ronald McDonald never sells to children. He informs and inspires through magic and fun.
Magic and fun! Let’s just read that one more time…
Okay, I know we don’t live in a perfect world and that we cannot place all blame for the obesity epidemic on one factor alone (the film actually makes a funny correlation between the boom of the fitness industry and the rising obesity rates and shows an old footage from the 50’s where a doctor strongly advises against doing any types of exercise as that was seen to be unhealthy and damaging to your libido! Yes, for real!).
I also realize that small amounts of sugar or processed foods will not make us obese, unhealthy or sick but I still think the film is an eye opener and definitely worth spending and hour and a half watching. See the trailer here FED UP Official trailer (and do not confuse this film with the vegan film carrying the same name!)