Theatrically released documentaries rarely have much initial impact.
Rather, it’s the cable TV and rental re-airings – as well as word of mouth – that stir a buzz.
So, when Fed Up – the food-industry documentary narrated and executive produced by Katie Couric – hit theaters in wide release on Memorial Day weekend, it posed no box-office threat to X-Men: Days of Future Past.
But the film did unveil some largely hidden practices of major food manufacturers. And, more importantly, will continue the national dialogue our country needs to have about its eating habits and nutritional knowledge – especially those of our youth.
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Some observers believe that the Stephanie Soechtig-directed movie is destined to do for the childhood obesity epidemic what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change awareness.
What’s inarguable, though, is the buffet of alarming facts and statistics that illustrate how, in the past three decades, America’s children have become increasingly unhealthy.
For instance, in 1980 there wasn’t a single diagnosed case of adolescent Type 2 diabetes; by 2010: more than 50,000 – and that figure continues to climb.
What’s more, Couric gravely intones, experts project that, in the next two decades, some 95 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese – and that by 2050, one in three Americans will have diabetes.
Scary stuff – especially if you have kids or grandkids.
And what are the primary culprits?
Sugar … and junk/fast food (I know – shocking, right?).
More specifically, the film takes to task the sugar industry, food manufacturers and Capitol Hill leaders – excoriating all three in equal measure.
Citing liberalized sugar-labeling laws that date back to 1977 – and the overwhelming political influence of the sugar lobby – a convincing case is made that Americans are consuming far more of this artificial poison than they realize – or would have any way of reasonably knowing.
And make no mistake – equating sugar to poison is no hyperbole.
As one of the film’s experts, Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the book “The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet,” says, “Some animal studies show that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Your brain lights up the same way with sugar as it does with cocaine or heroin.”
Decades in the making
Unfortunately, as “Fed Up” makes clear, our food supply now contains more sugar than ever before.
Well, the short answer is that, in the 1980s and ‘90s, when food manufacturers were (rightly) pressured to eliminate trans fats, they had to replace the lost taste with something.
And that “something”? You guessed it – more sugar.
This goes not only for the sugar that’s labeled as “sugar,” but also for the innumerable, unpronounceable, chemically produced ingredients that are listed on the packaging and contain added – but unmentioned – sugar and sugar byproducts.
Further complicating matters – not only for kids, but everyone – is how the body processes sugar. It’s not as simple as just “burning it off” with more activity.
As West Palm Beach neurosurgeon Dr. Brett Osborn writes in his new health and fitness book, Get Serious, you can develop Type 2 diabetes even if you’re at an ideal weight. Excess sugar – and the resultant surplus of insulin it produces – damages and constricts the walls of your blood vessels, he explains, leading to cellular deterioration, internal inflammation and a host of other deleterious conditions.
No wonder the American Diabetes Association says that, in addition to the 26 million Americans who have diabetes, there are 79 million in a state of “pre-diabetes.”
Fed Up solemnly notes that kids born in the Internet age are the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Attitudes and awareness
Couric’s combination of journalistic bona fides and maternal charm make her an effective advocate – both for change in the food industry, and for spreading awareness about making better food choices.
As she has pointed out in interviews promoting the film, the nation’s attitude on other health and safety issues – namely, cigarettes and seatbelts – changed when sufficient public pressure was brought to bear.
Here’s to hoping that enough folks take Couric’s food message to heart – and are hungry for reform.