Sugar is poison. Maybe you’ve heard this, and maybe you don’t believe it, since so many people, maybe most people, eat too much sugar and usually do so without dropping dead. But Fed Up, an exposé and analysis of the processed-food industry, makes a convincing case. And since this film, by veteran documentarian Stephanie Soechtig (one of the first to take on Monsanto, with GMO OMG!) follows four obese young teenagers, it is also a heartbreaking case. These teens were likely wired for weight gain from early childhood; the rapid rise in childhood obesity—and its frightening, corresponding epidemic of childhood diabetes—is the main concern of Fed Up, which examines the industry’s manipulation and malfeasance, beginning with how it lies to consumers through its advertising and continuing onto how it buys off politicians and counteracts consumer activists, including the World Health Organization.
Though Oreo yogurt might be an easy fraud in the “healthy” snack market to recognize, the escalation of sugar in the American diet is not always so obvious. The number of products that now contain sugar—usually under one of its alternate guises, such as corn syrup—is too vast even to summarize, from infant formula to tomato sauce. The film’s central thesis is that the long-held belief that weight loss can be achieved by following the simple equation of eating less and exercising more is no longer true, especially now that, as one talking head says, public schools have become “7-11’s with books,” a reference to how the major soda companies have infiltrated schools across the country.
Narrated by Katie Couric and featuring an array of experts, Fed Up is a straightforward documentary that makes, and ably illustrates, several cogent arguments against processed foods and the industry that pushes them on the public without regard for anything except profits. It conveys a large amount of information seamlessly and effectively (co-writer Mark Monroe also co-wrote two of the best documentaries in recent memory, The Cove and The Summit), some of it startling: such as how 75 percent of every medical dollar is spent on obesity-related illness. It’s also wrenching in its focus on the four teens, who are motivated to lose weight but are seemingly unable to—not even the determined redhead whose exercise regime resembles that of a top athlete. A 15-year-old reaches 400 pounds and undergoes drastic bariatric surgery even though it might be an unsafe procedure for teenagers.
Unlike Super Size Me, the McDonald’s expose considered to have started the food-documentary genre, Fed Up is not an entertaining film. But considering that today’s youths are the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents, it is definitely a necessary one.