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Why All of Us Should Be ‘Fed Up’

Opinion

What does it mean when the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the world’s packaged food and drink industry, puts out a defensive press release about a documentary before it is released? I’d say it means they are scared, and, after viewing the new film “Fed Up,” I can understand why.

Fed Up takes an unvarnished look at America’s unrelenting epidemics of overweight, obesity and related chronic disease by following the lives of several articulate and unusually introspective overweight children who struggle with bullying, their health and repeated attempts at weight loss.

The documentary, which was executive-produced by Katie Couric (who also narrates the film) and Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and directed by Stephanie Soechtig (“Tapped”), does not mince words. It places the blame squarely and fairly on a purely profit-driven food and drink industry and our government, which, instead of protecting consumers, has long been unusually solicitous toward food and beverage industry needs.  As Harvard’s Dr. David Ludwig unsparingly points out in the film, America’s approach to the obesity epidemic has been a “systematic failure” because “we’ve placed private profit and special interests ahead of public health.”

One of the first myths busted in “Fed Up” is the one that the food industry loves to perpetuate — the gluttonous, slothful obese person. Various experts explain the insanity of blaming individual lack of willpower in a food environment so toxic that 69 percent of America’s adults are overweight or obese. As University of California-San Francisco’s Dr. Robert Lustig states, “We have obese six-month-olds. Want to tell me they should diet and exercise?”

Another myth busted is the presumption that thin people, thanks to their weight control, are healthy. Turns out that a poor diet, high in sugar, salt, fat and plenty of junk food, can cause the same serious health problems for trim people that we are seeing in the overweight population. That, in itself, should be an eye-opener to any normal-weight consumer of the standard American diet who smugly thinks that he or she is not on the path to chronic disease.

Ultra-processed, empty-calorie food, with its irresistible holy trinity of sugar, salt and fat, is what Big Food does best, according to “Fed Up.”

“We now have the science to show you can make food hyper-palatable so we come back for more and more,” says former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. The fact that this nearly addictive, ultra-processed food is everywhere (including vending machines, cafeterias, offices, malls, supermarket end caps, corner stores, hospitals, magazine racks, gyms and schools) and is marketed relentlessly, 24/7, to both adults and children as young as two years old, only exacerbates the problem.

Author and journalist Michael Pollan explains how Michelle Obama’s well-intentioned national campaign for healthier food had its legs knocked out from under it by the powerful food and drink industry, which pushed for more of a focus on voluntary agreements and exercise. According to Pollan, the First Lady was also drawn into a long, complicated discussion about making processed food healthier, but, as he points out, “Junk is still junk, even if it’s less junky.”

One of the best segments in the movie is when Couric interviews Lisa Gable, president of the food industry-funded Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation on its much-touted, but unproven, claim that industry has eliminated 1.5 trillion calories from the marketplace. When Couric asks Gable what has been pulled from shelves to eliminate those calories, she gets a series of industry talking points designed to bamboozle, but never an answer. Turns out that the elimination of 1.5 trillion calories won’t make much of a dent regardless. It equals a mere 14 fewer calories a day for every adult and child in the U.S.

The film’s focus on sugar as the obesity epidemic’s nutritional villain is the movie’s only weak point. Added sugars in virtually every ultra-processed food (particularly sugary drinks) have certainly contributed mightily to overweight and chronic disease and must be reined in. But so have refined carbohydrates, which also turn to glucose in the body. And portion sizes are now so out of whack (e.g., the large fast-food soft drink of 32 ounces) that over-consumption is the norm. The biggest concern is that, if you give the food industry a singular scapegoat — such as added sugars — they’ll find a way to manipulate the message, profit off of it, and still sell junk. Junk food will always be filled with empty calories and questionable chemicals, whether it’s low-fat, low-carb, low-sodium or low-sugar.

The key to healthy eating is cooking and consuming real food that comes from the field, not the factory, and rejecting industry’s ultra-processed junk like the plague. The creators of “Fed Up” have ensured that message comes through, loud and clear, and the movie will hopefully spark a return to the types of meals our grandmothers used to cook and serve.

“Fed Up,” which opened on May 9, is a highly entertaining, eye-opening documentary that every American should see. In the movie, U.S. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who has waged a 30-year campaign against obesity and food industry manipulation, admits ruefully that “the deck is stacked against being healthy” in America. He painfully recalls a visit to a pre-school, where he found the children sitting in little red-and-white chairs that were labeled with the words “Coca-Cola.” When asked how he feels about the food companies he’s tried, often unsuccessfully, to regulate during his decades in the Senate, Harkin states what many of us have been thinking for years: “I don’t know how they live with themselves.”

© Food Safety News
  • LouWho

    I am fat. And that is because I don’t have a fast metabolism, I don’t eat super well and don’t exercise much. That however is my own fault, not Kraft’s, or GMA’s or anyone else’s. There are people that are fat beyond their control but food choices are still within their control. Healthy food is important but we have to take the responsibility of eating that healthy food. Trader Joe’s has a product called Cookie Butter and it flies off the shelf. And I’m sure there are people that imagine because it’s Trader Joe’s – supposedly better for you than something you would buy at Wal Mart – that it’s somehow not that unhealthy. You give the impression your goal is to eliminate choice that way we can ONLY choose to eat healthy and that will cure the issue. I applaud your effort and desire to make a difference but there is more to it than that and opinions expressed in a film with some supporting facts. Even if there were only “healthy” foods available, people will still over eat, avoid foods they don’t like regardless of health benefits, and there will still be health related deaths. Besides, who gets to determine what’s healthy and stays around? Pre-packaged food could definitely be healthier but education on how to look for and obtain healthy foods is what the focus should be, as well as understanding the relationship between calorie intake and calories burned. You’re right – sugar isn’t the only villain in all of this. One of the 3rd grade students I work with was having a competition with her sister to not eat sugar and be healthier. So naturally that meant no moon-pies or soda but she still ate bread, canned fruit and juice from concentrate. It’s about providing the full story to this girl and the knowledge of where sugar is and how to tailor your diet around it while still getting vitamins and nutrients you need. The food companies have to put all sorts of information on their labels, where we go from where is up to us. I certainly wouldn’t mind some sort of educational effort on the part of large food companies but demanding they do it so we, as parents, teachers, friends, etc. don’t have to is just lazy.

  • Nancy Huehnergarth

    I hate to see good people, like LouWho, bamboozled by industry into self-loathing. Lou, please take the time to see Fed Up. While I agree that ultimately, we are responsible for what we put into our mouths, it has been impossible for Americans to get accurate nutrition and portion size information thanks to the collusion between the food and beverage industry and a government beholden to Big Food and Beverage money. 69% of Americans are overweight or obese, and that only occurred in the past 4 decades. Did 69% of Americans suddenly become gluttons with little willpower? Studies have shown that exercise levels have changed little in the past four decades but Americans have still seen an astronomical rise in weight gain and chronic disease. The food and beverage industry has spread the self-serving lie that if you are overweight, it is your fault entirely. Yet they market junk relentlessly, label unhealthy food “heart healthy,” hide sugars and questionable chemicals in processed food, market junk to our kids from the age of 2 and fight every policy designed to improve our food system — even ones that merely educate or are voluntary. Please stop blaming yourself, Lou. And try to eat food from the farm, not the factory. I can assure you that you’ll see a remarkable change in your health and well-being.

    • Joe Blow

      Nancy, I agree with your points and Lou’s. I did take the time over the weekend to drive to only one theater in my area showing Fed Up. I am a food industry professional (food scientist), although not a nutritionist. I did find insight in the movie and agreed with the overall theme. However, there were points where I scratched my head.

      All of that said, this is a complex issue and no ONE party is to blame (food manufacturers, public, government, etc). They all get a piece of that blame pie (filled with sugar of course!). Keep in mind that companies will produce/manufacture whatever people are willing to buy. Until people make the necessary changes in their diets (I hate using that word because it is limiting) and overall meal plans through their wallets with what they eat there won’t be any significant changes in the industry. As Lou pointed out…the cookie butter is flying off the shelf. People have to know it isn’t a “healthy” option. Did you know each year there are, on average, 20,000 new food products developed? Of that, only about 10% realize any sort of potential. What does this mean? People decide what makes it to markets and what succeeds through their choices. The industry will respond appropriately.

      The points of the movie where I scratched my head is the food choices these very obese children were making. I don’t know if it is ignorance on the part of the parents, but diet soda, fruit juice, snack goods in place of sweets and fatty foods doesn’t seem like much of a healthier option. This tells me that the other part of the problem is basic nutritional understanding around macronutrients is lacking. There was one child who had lost 30 or 40 pounds because his family started cooking home meals and including more of vegetables while minimizing sugar and fat. This is great! But, in the next scene you see the child gained all the weight back. OK….but how? Why? What did he do differently? Leaving such a gaping hole in the movie was a true head scratcher.

      Another obese girl was touting her activity level while eating healthier or less. Yet, you see in the movie she is choosing to eat hamburgers at school. If the parents and her really wanted to see her drop weight, why aren’t they making her lunch before school? I suppose, me being removed from junior high and high school by 2 decades, probably leaves me outdated as to what parents do these days with their childrens’ lunches. It just raised a question within myself.

      Hopefully, this movie will be released in more theaters because I think the general public can get an eye opener from it. At least, it can motivate them to make better food choices and sustain a healthier lifestyle versus “dieting”. It really comes down to a lifestyle change and with children that has to be driven by their parents and the family. As one child mentioned, would an alcoholic have alcohol in the house? The parents have to instill it within the children from early on and with that, having the motivation to change (if needed). It becomes much harder to change when you are similar to everyone else around you. I’m not fat now…I’m average; this is indeed very scary as we forge ahead.

    • Joe Blow

      I also wanted to mention one more thing where at the end of the movie they “challenge” you on a 10 day sugar reduction, or elimination of processed sugar. That’s fine and dandy, but that is limiting. People really need to change their lifestyles….diets, challenges, fads, etc don’t work in the long-term; ask Oprah Winfrey.

    • http://www.supermom101.com/ SuperMom101

      Dear Nancy – so true! Here’s an example that makes me crazy: Ever notice the “little red dress” that brings awareness to “heart disease in women” is on a diet coke can? Ugh! So, drinking their “chemical in a can” will prevent heart disease?

  • wholefed

    37 Ingredients in a Twinkie: Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, niacin,
    water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable and/or animal shortening –
    containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed and canola
    oil, and beef fat, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum,
    whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium
    phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup, solids, mono and
    diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium
    stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial
    flavors, caramel color, yellow No. 5, red #40.

    Hostess failed for multiple reasons and one of them is their product is outdated and a
    cause of the chronic disease epidemic in this country. You cannot survive as a
    producer by killing off your customers.

    “No one escapes in the end–eventually the traditional western diet
    guarantees some form of disease in all of us. While it may not be heart disease
    at the moment, eventually it will be or hypertension, diabetes, stroke,obesity,
    gall stones, diverticulitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis,
    or a greater likelihood of breast, prostate, colon, ovarian and uterine
    cancers. Even erectile dysfunction and dementia. But there is something that
    you can do now to stop the cascading events that occur in the body and lead to
    disease. You can change your diet and begin safeguarding your health for the
    future.”

    By adopting a diet that has a very high degree of success in decreasing your
    chances of contracting a chronic disease you are in essence providing yourself
    with an Insurance Plan.

    http://wholefed.org/2013/05/01/six-reasons-to-give-up-meat-adopt-a-plant-based-diet/

    Ian Welch

  • Cody

    Having unlimited choices may be liberating and democratic but at what cost? These choice are just not choices. They are poison! You may not get sick instantly but clearly you will get sick! My biggest concern is that our government provides subsidies to companies that create these unhealthy “foods”. I want to see our government stop supporting Kraft and company and offer subsidies to farmers and companies that are providing organic whole foods.

  • FoodSci

    What I’m fed up with are people who say the answer is to eat like your grandparents. My grandparents would serve up huge meals of white potatoes, refined grain noodles, white bread (occasionally rye bread) white rice, and other cheap starchy meals, fried fish and chicken in Crisco, and made lemonade and iced tea with huge scoops of sugar.Lots of salt, after all, salt was cheaper than spices. Quarts of gravy. They didn’t eat that many vegetables during the winter unless they were canned, and most of the canned ones especially the ones my working grandmother served had Libby’sLibby’sLibby’s On The LabelLabelLabel (we had catchy advertising for processed foods too). Dessert after every dinner. Bologna and cheap lunch meat sandwiches. Salads with iceberg lettuce, never had kale. The only modern nutritional sensibility was limited soda consumption, and that’s because home-made sugary drinks were cheaper. They all ate twice the calories we did but they also worked like stevedores.

    • Nancy Huehnergarth

      Good point FoodSci. Not everyone’s grandparents ate a healthy diet. Keep in mind, however, that our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, in general, did cook more and understand the benefits of a real food diet. And also keep in mind that even if your grandparents remained trim while eating a poor diet of refined grains, junk food and too much sugar, salt and fat, they were/are at high risk of chronic disease — just like those who are overweight.

    • Dinamet7

      I agree – it shouldn’t be our “grandparents” but more likely, our grandparents’ grandparents. I’ve recently been reading the book, Anticancer (David Servan-Schreiber) and the studies he references echo a similar stance to the above article, only that it was essentially post-WWII diets that brought the current onslaught of obesity and an epidemic of cancers in the under-40 crowd into being. To address your example, I’m sure the pre-WWII generations ate whole, unrefined fats along with those white potatoes which would have helped with the Glycemic Index control and given them less of a spike.

  • Sue Blakeman

    Very Good Book: Fat Chance by Robert Lustig (pediatric endocrinologist).

  • Joe Blow

    Is it not overly simplistic to place the blame on the companies? Pick your poison here…what my point was is that ALL of these stakeholders share a piece of the pie when it comes to the obesity issue. Who cares how much blame one stakeholders has; all of it needs to be improved if we are going to right the ship.

    • Michael Bulger

      It appears we agree, after all.

  • http://www.supermom101.com/ SuperMom101

    Terrific movie! This movie answered a primary question I’ve been asking ever since I experienced cancer at the age of 38. (And, I thought I was eating healthy.)

    Why it is that America (and her children) have never been fatter or sicker? Meanwhile, we’re told everything is fine with America’s highly processed, genetically engineered, sugar addicted, chemically manufactured, artificially flavored, steroid injected, arsenic feed, hormone-laced, fat-free, scientifically altered, pesticide sprayed, nutritionally void, antibiotic feed, chemically banned (in many other countries) food supply.

    (Hint: See Fed Up – the answer has little to do with America’s lack of exercise or will power.)

    p.s. When you are watching the movie, remember, water can not be served with a school lunch menu or your school lunch program will not be reimbursed by the federal government because, “there is no nutritional value in water.” So, our high school daughter was forced to “choose” chocolate milk and throw it away because water can’t be a choice! (Insert heavy lobbying. Sadly, appears to be similar to the No Hungry Kids “Campaign” that’s run by “corporate partners” hungry to get their breakfast on your child’s plate and profits in their pockets and little to do with really ending hunger by providing “real” food for better health and welfare.)

    p.s.s. Even sadder, is it true that they are also working hard to overrule a law that was put in place to keep their highly processed, fake food products out of our children’s mouths?

    Best health always,
    Supermom-in-training

    • Nancy Huehnergarth

      Unfortunately, SuperMom101 is right about Big Food and Beverage trying to overrule a school food law that was one of Mrs. Obama’s crowning achievements — the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which has already made big improvements to our nation’s school food. But guess what? Now the food industry is working with their friends in Congress to roll back some of the regulations. Why? Because in September, new regulations will keep junky snack food out of schools. And guess who will lose money? Big companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, FritoLay, Mars, and more. Here’s the story in Politico (by a former Food Safety News Reporter): http://www.politico.com/story/2014/05/school-lunch-changes-106602.html#ixzz31bJVvzYt

  • TheBingeThinker

    Excellent points! But in reading all these comments below, I haven’t seen anyone
    mention how BigPharma benefits as well from a chronically sick American
    population. Cause of disease is never the focus, always the “cure,” in
    the form of medication or profitable surgeries. These corporations have
    basically made a fortune by selling us the poison, then selling us the
    “cure,” at least to treat symptoms… just long enough to keep us alive
    to keep eating garbage, and then keep us running to the doctor with complaints.

    Also, many of these overweight people probably have a massive
    digestive Candida overgrowth, which if not corrected as they alter their
    diet, will only continue to cause havoc with cravings, stubborn weight
    that won’t come off or will return, and autoimmune problems, food
    allergies and other chronic health problems (and this is one most doctors aren’t trained to diagnose).

    Also
    I’ve seen no mention of all the other products, such as hair shampoos,
    soaps, cleaners, detergents, fragrances, that are absorbed through the
    skin and are endocrine disruptors to the body. Endocrine disruptors mess
    with your hormones, causing cancer, autoimmune and a host of other
    diseases, but they also can clog your metabolism, which is hormone regulated. Environmental Working Group has a website that lists them.

    It’s
    complex, but the gist of it is, if you can’t peddle your poison, toxic
    industry byproducts anywhere else, then put a fancy label on it, market
    it, and sell it to the Americans. If not then LIE, slip it in along the
    way into one of the multilayered food supplier levels. The
    asleep-at-the-wheel FDA will never catch it. And the Food Industry’s job is to make it taste addictively good so we keep their business booming, regardless.

  • Silentk

    I have not seen the documentary yet. But from your write up, I wouldn’t. It sounds like there’s no new information to be had and to top it off, it looks like this is yet again a situation where we are saying that the American people have no ability to choose for themselves. They’re healthy options in the world and they’re unhealthy options in the world…choose for yourself. Same ol’ propaganda.

  • televisionarchives

    David Kellser is the former head of the FDA. Why didn’t he ban Nutrasweet? And to put the blame on Food alone is wrong. When I was growing up we didn’t have as many healthy choices as we do today. We watched cartoons on Saturday morning and that’s all. Today kids watch Television all the time. No exercise.

  • StonedFox

    Partially Hydrogenated oil,….killer. I bet some of the same people who work now at fda worked there when they said it was safe for us to eat. I wonder how they feel now that they are slow as molasses after saying they’ed banned it. I was spending 2x as much time looking at food labels at ‘regular’ stores. now I do 2/3 of my grocery shopping at Trader Joes. They banned it long ago.