An admission: For the majority of my life, I've had little sympathy for the obese. It mostly stemmed from confusion -- I simply couldn't understand how people could allow themselves to get so big without multiple alarms going off in their heads that something had gone seriously wrong. Every glance in the mirror, doctor's visit, piece of clothing that no longer fit, or physical activity that could no longer be enjoyed should be screaming out that serious changes must be made, if only to save one's own life. Unable to find answers that satisfied me, I'm ashamed to admit that I often concluded that obesity was primarily a moral failure -- that obese people were too lazy to exercise, were willfully blind or ignorant, or lacked the strength and self-control to cut down on unhealthy foods, even if it meant dramatically shortening the lives of themselves or their children.
As I've learned more about the causes of America's obesity epidemic, I've become more sympathetic. And the kind of thing that really helps me understand obesity is documentaries like Fed Up, which identifies added sugar in processed foods (including supposedly healthy ones) as the arch-villain in our fight against obesity. Watch the trailer for Fed Up below.
Fed Up, which is executive produced and narrated by Katie Couric, begins much like a horror movie, as a montage of TV news anchors breathlessly describe a lethal affliction infecting millions of Americans across the country, sowing illness and death for increasing numbers of men, women, and children. This scourge, of course, is obesity-related illness, which has been found to be more deadly than smoking, drinking, or even poverty.
After a brief history of Americans' expanding girth and past failed efforts to combat it (the low-fat craze), the indisputable culprit is identified: sugar. Or, more accurately, sugar + processed food makers. Or, even more accurately, sugar + processed food makers + a US government bought off by the big food and sugar industries. Even as processed foods have touted their low-fat, high fiber, whole grain creds, manufacturers have been upping those foods' sugar content to astronomical levels far exceeding what a healthy person should eat. Not only has this made us fatter, it has made us addicted to sugar -- a substance a recent study has found to be more addictive than cocaine.
At the same time, the food and sugar industries have successfully co-opted or bribed politicians of both parties into weakening or misdirecting efforts to help Americans be healthier, making sure that high-calorie, high-sugar processed foods are never blamed. Fed Up repeatedly and effectively compares the processed food and sugar industries to tobacco companies' efforts to fight legislation regulating the world's most lethal industry.
While explaining how the body turns sugar into fat and why all calories are not created equal is extremely informative, Fed Up illustrates how science, greed, and corporate corruption of government lands on the heads of average people by following four teenagers as they attempt to lose weight through exercise, eating better, and possibly bariatric (lapband) surgery. The emotional toll the teens' weight has on them, with its dire implications for their shortened futures, is heartbreaking to watch as the kids struggle to understand why nothing they do seems to be helping them save their own lives.
It's these kids that can help a previously unsympathetic person like myself understand that the greatest impediment to a healthy life in America isn't laziness, denial, or ignorance, but trusting that the processed food corporations that are killing us will also make us healthy. While the teens' parents make honest efforts to help their kids lose weight, this often involves buying processed foods corporations falsely claim is healthy. As is regularly the case with the vast majority of America's ills, it's corporations and the politicians they buy (for bargain prices) that are at the root of the problem. And for the unflinching, unyielding way Fed Up takes those companies and politicians on and calls them out, Fed Up deserves to join the esteemed group of important food/health documentaries (with most of them on Netflix) that all Americans need to watch.