Thinking of adding “Fed Up” to your Netflix queue this summer? Here are the pros and cons of this high-profile documentary, which tackles the topic of obesity and the evils of the junk food industry.
There are plenty of reasons to be fed up with “Fed Up.” The 2014 film, directed by Stephanie Soechtig, has been criticized for being an “advocacy documentary” and for presenting bad science, incomplete nutrition and unbalanced politics. In fact, T. Colin Campbell, much-revered devotee of whole-food, plant-based eating and author “The China Study,” called the film “an abysmal failure.” His main criticism: the “reductionist” treatment of sugar. Eliminating sugar from our diets to reduce obesity, Campbell argues, “… seriously short-changes the far more comprehensive diet and health connection.”
I don’t wish to pile on to the carping, but I do have a complaint of my own: Executive producer Katie Couric, who also narrates the film, gives short shrift to the topic of food addiction. In a film that is about one-and-a-half hours long, food as an addiction is given less than 90 seconds of airtime. Yes, there are many references to the brain’s role in overeating and obesity, but only one of the more than 25 experts interviewed takes the risk of using the real name for this disease that is often the culprit behind the symptom of obesity.
In the film bestselling author Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Food addiction is a real thing; it’s not a metaphor. It’s a biological fact.” We need more doctors like Hyman who will make unequivocal statements such as this, even if one “Fed Up” critic gripes that the film’s “selection of ‘experts’ [e.g., Hyman] is heavy on politicians and journalists and light on nutrition scientists.” We need fewer doctors like former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Dr. David A. Kessler, who speaks and writes about foods being “hyper palatable,” but stops short of using the term food addiction.
Had “Fed Up” gone further in raising the profile and credibility of food addiction — I actually contacted the producer of the film to offer my expertise and to ask if they were interested in my input or participation in viewings, but received no reply — its value as a teaching tool would have increased significantly.
The Upside of “Fed Up”
This is not to deny the many merits of the film. I’m truly impressed with the movie’s wide distribution in movie theaters across Canada, where I live, and the U.S. I can only imagine the squirming that must have taken place as patrons watched the film while scarfing Junior Mints, munching popcorn or slurping Coca-Colas. I can even forgive the simplification of the science presented by “Fed Up.” How many moviegoers, after all, can comprehend highly technical source material?
Food addicts who have watched it related immediately to some of the spot-on comments from the obese children whose struggles are documented in the film. One says that after a binge “your brain is still telling you to eat, eat, eat.” How true, since an addict’s brain has been hijacked. Another subject’s father says his nearly-400-pound son can’t stop eating: “He doesn’t know how to do it.” True again. Willpower is useless against addiction. And an overweight girl simply cries a lot, putting her despair out there for the world to see. Food addicts often report feeling depressed, marginalized or even suicidal.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “Fed Up” is its in-your-face indictments of the junk food industry, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each has been complicit in either promoting or allowing the sale of the foods that are making so many people — two-thirds of the U.S. population at last count — either overweight or obese.
The food industry takes an especially well-deserved beating for peddling highly addictive and nutritionally empty processed foods. Foods are no longer grown, harvested and cooked. They are created in laboratories where scientists know exactly which ingredients are most likely to hook consumers. “Bet you can’t eat just one” today is no longer just a cute advertising slogan but a grim reality for millions of people.
Too bad the film missed the opportunity to take the next bold step in identifying food addiction as the most serious life-damaging consequence of the industry’s primary intent to choose profit over health. “Fed Up” could have made the difference between watching a titillating film and engaging in an endeavor that might actually save lives.
Photo courtesy of “Fed Up”