Fed Up interviews various medical experts, food experts, and politicians about the childhood obesity epidemic in the US. The documentary supplements these interviews with snippets about different children and their families as well as history about government attempts to influence food and our eating habits.
Fed Up starts by taking on the myth that our weight is all about counting calories and “energy balance”. Instead, we need to look at the type of calorie; the body does not treat all calories the same way.
We’ve been taught that if we are overweight, it is because we eat too much and move too little. We have no willpower.
But those aren’t the reasons for the rise in obesity. It is sugar, or as one doctor called it, the “chronic, dose-dependent hepato toxin”. Yup. A toxin. There is a safe threshold for sugar (6-9 grams a day), but we tend to blow that out of the water.
Sugar, in its various forms, is all around us—in treats, in beverages, in simple carbohydrates, in processed food. As fat got the bum rap for causing weight gain a couple of decades ago, the food industry replaced fat with sugars.
Too much sugar intake is behind all the metabolic diseases related to obesity: diabetes, heart disease, lipid problems, strokes, cancer. When you eat too much sugar, the liver is pushed into overdrive, which causes the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin, the energy storage hormone, turns sugar into fat for storage.
But that’s not all. Insulin blocks the brain from thinking you are full. You think you are starving and eat more. You crave more. You eat more sugar. And the cycle repeats.
Sugar lights up the same parts of the brain that cocaine does and is 8 times more addictive. As one obese teenager explained, having junk food in the house is like an alcoholic having alcohol in the house.
Fed Up also looks at the ways that public health has been in a losing battle with the food industry for decades. The government subsidizes the food industry, which feeds us unhealthy “food” products, but then tries to tell us to eat healthy and exercise.
Congressmen tried at different times to go head to head with the food industry, like they did with tobacco, only to fail again and again. There is too much money involved in feeding people bad food than selling them good health.
In fact, the WHO attempted to publish an article stating that sugar was a major cause of chronic metabolic disease but ended up not stating this after the US threatened to withhold its annual payment to the WHO.
Obesity is a bit like the canary in a coal mine. The presence of legions of overweight Americans is screaming the warning signs of a health epidemic. But the obese aren’t the only ones suffering from metabolic disease. Metabolic disease can just as easily hit thin people. You can be thin and sick from the food you eat too.
So why hasn’t anything been done? When it comes down to it, it is all about money. The food industry has too much to gain from feeding us ill health. As former Senator Tom Harkin points out, the deck is stacked against us being healthy.