Director: Stephanie Soechtig
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements including smoking images, and brief mild language)
Running Time: 1:32
Release Date: 5/9/14 (limited); 5/23/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 8, 2014
Take away all the filler, and there is about twenty minutes of material in Fed Up. It's an educational slideshow, really, that utilizes the methodology of a teasing news broadcast. You know the kind: Before the commercials, the anchor tells you that "coming up" is a story that could affect the way you look at the food you buy for yourself and your family. You wait and wait, and eventually, they get to the "incisive" story, which pretty much tells you everything you already knew.
The same technique is on display here. The movie is even narrated by veteran news broadcaster Katie Couric, so we're already prepared for the moments when she asks something along the lines of, "Are we looking at obesity/how to lose weight/our food in the wrong way?" "Diet and exercise," the talking heads tell us, is the mantra of the fight against obesity, which has become an epidemic in this country. It's about countering how many calories we take in with how many calories we expend. This thinking is wrong, the movie argues, and worse, it makes overweight people feel they are to blame for their bad health (The movie's central point, though, doesn't exactly let people off the hook for the nutritional decisions, but it doesn't want to admit that).
The build-up keeps going, and talking heads keep posing the question that will eventually be answered: "Are we looking for the solution to obesity in the wrong place?" There's so much hype leading to the big revelation of where we should be looking and what the real culprit is that we're expecting something revolutionary. Then the answer arrives: sugar.
Did we know sugar is bad for us? Of course we did. Our parents told us because they had heard it before us (Also, it kept us awake well past our bedtime). Our dentists told us and showed us the holes in our teeth as proof. This movie imagines it is telling you this information for the first time, and it's very proud of itself for the perceived ingenuity of its message.
There's nothing new here, but once the movie finally gets to its thesis, it makes some valid points. With a helpful animated diagram, it explains the physiological effects of ingesting sugar, especially in a form that does not have a fiber component—like fruit—to offset the way the body reacts to it. Basically, taking in too much sugar messes with the body's hormones, primarily insulin, and the short story is that it results in weight gain and could eventually lead to diabetes.
Director Stephanie Soechtig intercuts the scientific information with the stories of several teenagers who suffer from obesity. At least one has diabetes. Another is on the path to drastic surgery to facilitate weight-loss. They exercise. All of them try to eat the "right" things but end up eating poorly, especially at school, where the cafeteria is full of fried foods and sugary drinks. At home, it's not much better, because their parents look to reduced-fat products, which, the movie points out, increase the amount of sugar to hide the fact that they have a terrible taste.
It's all pointing to a vicious cycle, facilitated by the food industry and not helped by the government. We're reminded that the United States Department of Agriculture is the bureaucracy that puts the nutrition labels on food (The movie does answer why there's no "daily value" percentage under the sugar content: because most foods would be well over 100 percent), but they're also the organization that is trying to raise sales of the country's agriculture, including corn, which is the main ingredient of high fructose corn syrup. One of the talking heads goes along with the food industry's insistence that corn syrup is no different than sugar and turns the statement on its head: "They're both poison."
The politics of this issue are predictable but still fascinating in their damned-if-you-do-or-don't logic. The movie makes a big deal of Michelle Obama's "Let's Movie" campaign, criticizing it for quickly shifting from trying to focus on actual healthy eating and changing the industry to the usual diet-and-exercise outlook after the food industry decided to get involved.
The industry self-promoted putting lower-fat options on the shelves and in schools, but the end result was like a drop of water an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Yes, they put "healthier" options on the shelf—still high in sugar—but those less-than-"healthier" options are still there, too, and it's no surprise when we see kids in the cafeteria flock toward those. There's a discussion of the price of different kinds of foods, but the movie rather simplistically argues that feeding a family fresh foods is less expensive than ordering meals at a fast-food restaurant. It ignores how cheap processed foods on the shelf are compared to the ideal option.
The movie is well-meaning but dry. Fed Up is another of those socially aware documentaries that leaves one feeling helpless instead of inspired to assist any kind of change (The most it encourages one to do is to check the labels for how much sugar is in these foods). It does provide the story of 43 cocaine-addicted lab rats who chose the sweet stuff over the narcotic, which could very well be used as a slogan for sugar: At least it's not cocaine.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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