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It's the Sugar, Stupid: A Review of the Documentary 'Fed Up'

On a Thursday in October some years back I received the call I knew would be come, but it was jarring nonetheless. My father, who'd been fighting cancer for the last several years, passed away earlier that morning and it was time to make travel arrangements to attend his funeral. While other lifestyle factors certainly played a role in the onset and persistence of my father's disease, I ascribe the largest contribution to his less-than-stellar eating habits. Like many middle class parents mine learned most everything they knew about nutrition from advertising-laden media; my dad ate what he thought was good for him, but his notions about what constituted healthy eating patterns were too far afield to afford him the long and healthy life I'd always hoped he'd enjoy.

FedUpThe messages we hear in advertisements have a huge impact on our food choices. This reality is the starting point of the documentary Fed Up, produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David and directed by Stephanie Soechtig. While ostensibly focusing on America's obesity epidemic, the film is really about the downward spiral into which the United States is descending by allowing processed food companies seemingly unfettered access to so many advertising channels, particularly those that let them to target children. These companies have for decades demonstrated their willingness to put their pursuit of profit above the needs of public health, a reality that inevitably shows up in Americans' bulging waistlines and a national healthcare tab that's rising meteorically.

There have been a profusion of enjoyable food-related documentaries over the past decade, but Fed Up is very much a cut above the rest; first of all the production is far more professional, and while the requisite talking heads are featured throughout the film the real stars are four obese teenagers whose struggles to lose weight are shown in all their gut-wrenching glory. The stories of these teens illustrate how the primary culprit of obesity and diabetes - refined sugar and refined starch - thwarts their weight control efforts with not only its ubiquity but its addictiveness, and provide a weighty backdrop for the film's many forays into the science and politics of industrially produced food.

As the leader of my local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation I'm well aware of the dangers associated with refined sugar and starch. The way Fed Up treats the science linking these foods to our modern epidemics of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome is astute and refreshing, although admittedly even more refreshing is its treatment of the politics of processed food. The links between monied interests in the world of processed food and the elected officials they seek to influence aren't news to me, but I suspect the rabbit hole that Fed Up invites viewers to explore will surprise and inform many. Overall I give the film two thumbs up and hope it's a phenomenal success, and I also hope the team of producers is inspired to investigate other emerging issues within the politics of nutrition, particularly the fallacy behind today's saturated fat phobia.

As I think back to the times I spent with my father, helping him cook and eating with him, I wonder how he'd react to seeing a film like Fed Up, one that so clearly articulates the need to cut refined sugar and starches out of our diets. Would he be impressed enough to change, or would he succumb to the addictiveness of a diet he'd eaten most all of his life? I'll never know, but I certainly hope others who watch the film are motivated to change their eating patterns, if only for the sakes of their loved ones who'll one day receive the call they knew would be coming, but was jarring nonetheless...

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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