Estimates are that 95 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese within 20 years if nothing is done to change the ingredients in foods. That is one of the sobering statistics discussed in Fed Up, a new documentary about the hidden sugar in most foods that is endangering American lives for generations to come.
The documentary, which opened May 9 in selected theaters, takes off the rose-colored glasses to examine the reasons for the growing weight problem (pun intended!) and myths about the American diet. Executive-produced by Katie Couric (who narrates as well) and Laurie David (who was behind An Inconvenient Truth), the film places blame for the obesity problem on a profit-driven food and beverage industry as well as a government more interested in the industry’s needs than protecting consumers. Dr. David Ludwig points out in the film that a “systematic failure” has put more importance on corporate profits and special interests instead of public health.
Experts in the film explain that the fact that 69 percent of U.S. adults are overweight is not do to lack of willpower. Rather, it is caused by ultra-processed foods loaded with sugar, salt and fat.
Fed Up particularly focuses on the sugar content and the belief that excessive sweetener use is leading to health issues and endangering lives. Besides obesity, added sugars in foods — particularly in the form of concentrated fructose — have been linked to increases in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and many cancers. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David Kessler predicts that today’s obesity crisis, which is fuelled by sugar, will be ‘one of the greatest public health epidemics.”
The film’s researchers found that 80 percent of the 600,000 food items sold in the U.S. have added sugar. Food manufacturers claim the sugar is added to make the foods taste better, rather than change their recipes. This is often because sugar additives are inexpensive. They note that even thin people who consume a diet high in sugar and salt are heading for the same health problems as the overweight population. The non-nutritious additives and empty calories are an issue for everyone.
Many food industry groups have issued statements criticizing the documentary. For example, the Grocery Manufacturers Association statement said the film does not identify ongoing efforts to deal with obesity, but rather “adopts a short-sighted … and misleading approach” to fit a narrative. Adam Fox, a lawyer for the Sugar Association trade group, noted that the filmmakers and doctors interviewed may be well meaning, but all types of sweeteners should not be lumped together.
The filmmakers contend, however, that food industry representatives declined to take part in the movie. The film team conducted numerous interviews with many well-known researchers and authors about the American diet. According to the documentary’s director, Stephanie Soechtig, they tried to be apolitical and show both sides whenever possible. “It was a mandate from Katie [Couric]. She’s a journalist,” Soechtig noted.
One criticism the film and its focus on added sugars have gotten is lack of attention to the unhealthy refined carbohydrates that are heavily consumed in the U.S. Refined carbohydrates turn to glucose in the body, so they have similar effects as sugar substitutes.
Whether presented evenly or not, Fed Up should make viewers consider changes in their diets. Viewers Fed Up with all the sugar or sweeteners added in the name of flavor that endangering our lives should note that other cultures manage to add spices to foods to add flavor that do not add calories. It is time Americans should.
By Dyanne Weiss