This weekend, Fed Up, a documentary that hopes to encourage a fight against obesity, opens in New York, Washington, and other cities. It’s being heavily promoted by its producers, TV journalist Katie Couric and Laurie David, the producer of An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary about former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign about climate change.
Fed Up has good intentions and raises valid issues, but it is almost two hours long and is so broad in its condemnation of the food industry that it’s questionable whether it will find a viewership beyond the people who already agree with the producers’ viewpoint, or whether it will have any impact on public policy.
The film, which was previewed last week in a theater in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, starts out by blaming the food industry for the obesity epidemic. When nutritionists discouraged people from eating fat, the food industry responded by putting more sweeteners in food to make it tastier, the film says. When people took up the recommendation to drink skim milk, the dairy industry responded by making and marketing more cheese, the film continues. The idea that people can balance what they eat with exercise is wrong, the filmmakers say, because it is impossible to exercise enough to work off the calories.
People who are overweight from eating these foods should not blame themselves but the industry for their constant advertising, particularly to children, a series of academic experts and food journalists say in the film.
But Fed Up then diminishes these points through a series of interviews with obese working-class children about their struggles and failures to lose weight. While the film makes the point that the children are exposed to advertising, the scenes of these families seem to say that working-class people just can’t make good food choices or get exercise.
Fed Up contains some fantastic graphics about how the body absorbs food, but its worst aspect is the apparent lack of understanding about how public policy is made. The film acknowledges that first lady Michelle Obama raised the issue of childhood obesity, but it pretty much declares her “Let’s Move” campaign a failure because it focuses on exercise and because she has worked with food companies rather than opposing them.
Leftist critics have often said that it was a mistake for the first lady to try to convince the food companies to reformulate their products. But as Sam Kass, the assistant White House chef who also heads the Let’s Move campaign and advises the administration on nutrition, said at a recent Consumer Federation of America conference that the idea “that we could change the food without working with the people who are feeding everybody just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The film acknowledges that the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act — which requires schools to reduce sugar and sodium and serve lower-fat meat and dairy products, whole-grain breads, and lots of fruits and vegetables — mandates healthier school meals. But it focuses on the two issues on which nutritionists failed to prevail in that bill: the designation of tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable and the unlimited use of potatoes as a vegetable. Fed Up does not acknowledge that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is one hard-fought battle that nutritionists won with the help of the White House. It also doesn’t mention that the new school-meal rules are strong enough that the School Nutrition Association, which represents school-meal preparers, and some students are urging Congress to roll back the new rules when child-nutrition programs come up for reauthorization in 2015.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Fed Up is that, while it blames big food conglomerates for the obesity problem, it doesn’t give credit to people who have confronted the food industry and doesn’t offer any new ideas on how to address obesity in public policy other than bigger labeling on soda cans for sugar content. David said at the Capitol Hill screening, “Whatever issue you’re working on, [Fed Up] will help move that agenda.”
Couric is challenging people to give up all sugar for 10 days, though the proper term would be sweeteners, because she has said she means high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and juice or artificial sweeteners. Couric is starting the challenge herself on Monday. That may be a good way to get people to talk about the film, but what happens after 10 days? Are people supposed to give up all sweetener-containing products forever?
As people who are well-connected in the entertainment industry, Couric, David and Fed Up director Stephanie Soechtig have big plans for their film. Soechtig said at the briefing that a Spanish-language version will be released this Friday, and she has plans for a shorter version that can be shown in schools.
If the movie is shown in schools, the food industry will undoubtedly demand equal time or produce a competing film. It looks like it will be left up to the techers to point out that the feelings of rage that Fed Up seems inclined to create are useless unless they lead to the step-by-step actions that might actually reduce obesity.
What We're Following See More »
"Hate crimes in America rose 17 percent last year, the third consecutive year that such crimes increased, according to newly released FBI data. Law enforcement agencies reported 7,175 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016. That increase was fueled in part by more police departments reporting hate crimes data to the FBI, but overall there is still a large number of departments that report no hate crimes to the federal database." Anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by 37 percent during the period.
"Matthew Whitaker’s authority to serve as acting U.S. attorney general is being challenged by the state of Maryland, which says it will ask a judge on Tuesday to rule that his appointment wasn’t legitimate. Maryland’s bid could force a federal judge to decide who is the chief U.S. law enforcement officer and whether President Donald Trump has power to appoint Whitaker in an acting capacity without Senate approval. Such a decision, in what could become a key test of presidential power, would almost certainly be appealed to higher courts."
"A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to ensure provisional ballots aren't improperly rejected and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor. In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the secretary of state's office to establish and publicize a hotline or website where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, she ordered the secretary of state's office to review, or have county election officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional ballot because of registration issues."
"CNN is filing a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's access to the White House. ... The suit alleges that Acosta and CNN's First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the ban. The suit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning. Named in the suit are Trump, Sarah Sanders, Bill Shine, John Kelly, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the unnamed Secret Service officer who took Acosta's hard pass away.