‘Fed Up’ — the most important documentary about the obesity epidemic

The number of cases of Type 2 Diabetes in the US in 1980 was 0.
The number of cases of Type 2 Diabetes in the US in 2010 was 57, 638.

That is just one of the jaw-dropping facts presented to viewers by Fed Up — the documentary directed by Stephanie Soechtig. I had heard a lot about this film from Personal Trainer friends of mine who urged me to watch it. I had just finished reading a couple of books on nutrition and sugar consumption, of which both of the authors feature in this documentary, and I was eager to see how all this research had come together to prove that more people are getting sick from what we eat than anyone has previously realised.

Now I wholeheartedly believe that in order to lose weight, it’s more of an 80/20 split of diet/exercise. You can’t outrun a bad diet! And yes, I have food weaknesses as much as the next person (mainly a chocolate addiction!), so I’m certainly not a saint 100% of the time when it comes to my diet. But it is food that is the problem here, and not doing more movement, and it’s our diets that our taking us down the treacherous path towards diseases associated with obesity. Chronic metabolic disease, Cancer, Diabetes, strokes, heart attacks…

The documentary takes us back a few decades to the 60s and 70s in America, when the number of gym memberships started to gradually increase. But as more people started to exercise, people’s waistlines were getting bigger, and as more gym memberships were bought, obesity rates were increasing. There was certainly evidence to suggest that the reason for this correlation was the change in our diets. Now we are seeing obese 6-month olds and strokes happening in 10 year-olds. The two countries in the world that suffer from the highest rate of obesity are Mexico and Saudi Arabia, and if our diets and food consumption don’t improve, by 2050 1 out of every 3 Americans will have Type 2 Diabetes.

An important feature of the documentary is Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign. This initiative has the initially stated goal of “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.” Michelle Obama indicated the campaign would encourage healthier food in schools, better food labeling and more physical activity for children, i.e. she wanted to implement a change in the marketing tactics employed by the major food brands. Of course this terrified the food industry, and so what did they do in response? The likes of Kellogg’s, Mars, Coca-Cola and Hershey’s all volunteered to help her with the campaign. But their definition of ‘help’ was to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the marketplace to help combat childhood obesity. In plainer terms, all this equates to is removing just 14 calories a day for the average adult or child. Some help that was!! During Michelle Obama’s initial campaign launch she was criticized for demonizing the food industry in the media, especially for targeting the major fast food brands. However, when the food brands threatened to withdraw their support of her campaign, she quickly retracted her initial statement and further focused on the idea of encouraging kids to be more active, rather than focusing on diet as the main cause of childhood obesity.

Oh, the power of the big money-making food brands, and as a result yet another important public figure bows down to the pressures of the food industry! Of course Michelle Obama refused to be interviewed by the makers of the documentary, as did many of the food brands. Same old story!

In essence, the main message coming out of the film is that junk is still junk, even if it’s reduced fat or increased fibre, or any ‘diet’ foods. They will all have a high sugar content, be that high fructose corn syrup, or sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame. We can’t trust the American government to do anything, since they’re the ones subsidising the food industry that’s making Americans sick. America is the richest society in the world but yet they’ve failed as a society as they’ve put private profit and special interests over public health. Currently 30% of Americans are obese and 51% of Americans are sick due to bad diets, and the situation is not improving.

There is a lot to think about and understand when it comes to diet and this documentary only scratches the surface. Certainly there are huge similarities to the health problems here in the UK, where we have an extremely high number of people suffering from diseases associated with obesity. Several experts feature in the film who add valuable insight into the debate, including Dr. Robert Lustig, Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan. The main idea drawn is that a calorie is not just a calorie, but it depends on the state of your body, and from where that calorie comes from and what it is. Sadly this is not explained in enough detail, which is why I have listed the fantastic books I’ve read by these authors, which really delve deeper into these issues (links at the bottom).

You may have seen previous films on the food industry, namely ‘Super Size Me’ by Morgan Spurlock, which explored the fast food industry’s corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit. In my opinion, ‘Fed Up’ is the most important exposé I have seen on the state of our food industry and how it is feeding children to death. The sooner we educate future generations on the importance of a healthy and varied diet, the sooner we can battle the diseases associated with obesity and end the epidemic once and for all.

A list of important books to read more on the subject:

‘In Defence of Food’, by Michael Pollan

‘Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity And Disease’, by Doctor Robert Lustig

‘Why We Get Fat, And What To Do About It’, by Gary Taubes

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