Last night, the Wilton Library presented a screening of the film “Fed Up” by Laurie David which takes the view that excess sugar added to just about everything is a main cause of the world wide obesity epidemic. The screening was followed by a discussion featuring chef Michel Nischan of Wholesome Wave (and formerly of the now closed Dressing Room restaurant) and Ceci Maher of Person2Person, a local food bank and assistance organizaion, with local filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris as moderator.
The film was partly supported by the local Jesse and Betsy Fink foundation Moral Ground, and was introduced by Jesse Fink. It was directed by Stephanie Soechtig and narrated by Katie Couric.
The central thesis of the film’s scattered interviews and visuals is that of Dr Robert Lustig, who is interviewed throughout. Lustig, in his book Fat Chance presents the thesis that added sugar is the cause of all our dietary woes. The trouble is that Lustig’s views are considered outliers and have not really been scientifically tested. And the idea that sugar is “poison” is just not accurate.
The film follows three morbidly obese young teenagers who struggle with their weight quite unsuccessfully. All are clearly from fairly low income families and the film skirts the issue of class and obesity even though it is clearly part of these youngster’s problems. One of the three ends up having lap band surgery, although as the surgeon clearly notes, such surgery is really not advisable for 14 year olds, and that the potential side effects might be worse than the possible weight loss outcome.
The film shows kids eating fast food and greasy, starchy school lunches and suggests that far too many school lunch programs have contracts with fast food suppliers like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. It really doesn’t show them consuming much that is sugar laden. And in fact, it is these greasy, starchy foods which are most likely to be at the root of their obesity.
Most of the speakers interviewed in the film are writers, politicians and pseudo-scientists like Mark Hyman and Lustig. We also hear from Michael Pollan (of course), food writer Mark Bittman, and pediatrician Harvey Karp. Nutritionist Marion Nestle is one of the few credible speakers, but most of the rest are just opinionators.
The film also denigrates research in the area as having been “paid for by food companies,” which shows a pretty poor understanding of how peer-reviewed science actually is carried out and checked.
Well-intentioned and produced though this film is, it does not really talk to many actual scientists who support its thesis. And it does get a number of things wrong: notably that the current generation’s life expectancy will be lower than their parents. As noted in the review in Science-Based Medicine the CDC projects continuing increases in life expectancy.
The film also claims that more people die of obesity than starvation, but this isn’t true either as Food Insight’s review points out. The WHO claims that 2.8 million people die from overweight and obesity but Oxfam estimates that over 8 million a year die from starvation.
The film also tries to make us believe that obesity isn’t caused by just too many calories, but by the sugar itself. However, this is one of Lustig’s off-the-wall ideas that isn’t supported by science. A calorie is a calorie, and too many of them will lead to obesity: it is that simple, and that difficult.
In fact, the whole idea that sugar causes obesity is wrong. Calories cause obesity, and obesity can lead to diabetes. Sugar is not a cause, but it is definitely part of the problem.
The film also groups diet soft drinks with sugary soft drinks and fruit juices as leading to obesity because it claims that diet sodas initiate a craving for sugar. This has been discredited by any number of papers. It ain’t so and they should know it.
The depressing part of this film is that it presents no hope and no solutions. One child had lap band surgery. Another family changed their eating habits to emphasize fresh foods, which the film called “sugar detox,” and indeed all of them lost weight while they cooked that way. And they regained it when they stopped! They class/income issue is not touched on, but none of these families have a lot of money, and cooking with fresh ingredients is much more expensive, and unlikely to be supported by their budgets long term.
The film, which seems overly long when sitting on hard chairs finally concludes, offering little positive outcomes, and led to a lively panel discussion.
Chef Michel Nischan’s Wholesome Wave is now active in 30 states, helping provide nourishing fresh food to low income areas, and Ceci Maher’s Person2Person provides both food and assistant to families in the Fairfield County area. They noted that local farmers’ markets now double the value of food stamps, and that the most recent Farm Bill provides $100 million in funding to help support this program.
Overall, this is a well-meaning if disorganized film, but it offers little that is positive and gets a lot wrong.
Originally published on Examiner.com on 12/13/14
Accessibility trumps artistry in “Fed Up,” a formulaic and functional documentary that nevertheless proves effective at getting the message out about America’s addiction to unhealthy food. Focusing specifically on childhood obesity, the insidious practices of big food companies and the lack of political will to address the problems, Stephanie Soechtig’s film is the latest in a long line of call-to-action docs following in the footsteps of “An Inconvenient Truth” (and boasts that film’s executive producer, Laurie David to boot). Slick execution and big-name participants, including narrator Katie Couric and an interview with former President Bill Clinton, puts the pic in prime position to become one of the year’s highest-profile commercial docs.
Couric opens the film with alarmist voiceover — turning her years of reporting stories about the obesity epidemic into a mark of authority on the subject — accompanied by clips from the likes of YouTube and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” But the facts quickly pile up: It doesn’t take much convincing to connect the dots between Americans doubling their sugar intake since 1977 and the explosion of Type 2 diabetes in the past 30 years. At the same time, the food and weight-loss industries continue to emphasize the concept of “calorie in calorie out” (you can eat whatever you want, as long as you exercise enough to burn it off) — a fallacy effectively debunked here.
“Fed Up” leans heavily on emotional video diaries from a variety of kids struggling with weight issues to give the subject context. They range from 14-year-old Joe, who decides to get lap band surgery, to 12-year-old Maggie, who exercises regularly but can’t lose weight. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Brady struggles to change his eating habits and 16-year-old Nashwah admits she just loves food and sneaks out to buy snacks if her mother doesn’t have them in the house (it can’t help that ever since she was young, teachers would reward good behavior and learning with candy). The prognosis isn’t good: This is the first generation of kids in two centuries expected to live shorter lives than their parents.
So why isn’t anything being done about it? “Fed Up” aims to get viewers fired up enough to start a revolution, pointing to the collusion between government and big food as the biggest hurdle. Soechtig asserts that in the conflict between promoting health and promoting industry, the clear winner is industry. Processed food remains cheap and accessible, school nutrition budgets have been slashed while fast food is served in more than half of U.S. schools, and companies dump so much sugar (in so many different forms) into food labeled non-fat or low fat that “healthier” options are often anything but. Attempts to crack down on practices that are clearly harmful to kids are inevitably met with “nanny state” talking points from right-wing commentators and politicians.
But “Fed Up” acknowledges the problem crosses party lines, targeting Michelle Obama’s “Get Moving” campaign as a massive failure for only addressing half the problem: advocating for exercise while doing next to nothing to encourage healthier eating habits (due to the political risk of taking on deep-pocketed food companies). Couric also presses Clinton, who became an advocate for healthy eating after leaving office, on whether he thinks his administration did enough to address the problem. He admits they might have “missed it.”
Sundance Film Review: 'Fed Up'
Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 2014. Running time: 92 MIN.
An Atlas Films presentation in association with Artemis Rising Foundation and Diamond Docs. Produced by Eve Marson, Sarah Olson, Stephanie Soechtig. Executive producers, Katie Couric, Laurie David, Heather Reisman, Regina K. Scully, Michelle Walrath, Michael Walrath. Co-producers, Sarah Gibson, Kristin Lazure.
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Written by Mark Monroe, Soechtig. Camera (color, HD), Scott Sinkler; editor, Brian Lazarte, Tina Nguyen, Dan Swietlik; music, Michael Brook; music supervisor, Mike Meeker; supervising sound editor, Eric Lalicata; re-recording mixer, Tom Boykin; graphics and effects, the Glossary, Matthew Freidell, Allison Dunning, Jeremy Dunning; associate producers, Mary Beth Callie, Yoko Okumura, Carly Palmour, Dawn V. Woollen.
Bill Clinton, Tom Harkin, Kelly Brownell, Robert Lustig, Michael Pollan. Narrator: Katie Couric.
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