Sugar: public enemy No.1
January 22, 2014
Filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig has some bad news, and she isn’t about to deliver it with a spoonful of sugar. Her hard-hitting Sundance documentary "Fed Up" exposes a growing epidemic of childhood obesity and takes aim at the powerful special interests in the food industry and federal government that are making it worse.
Paired with respected news anchor Katie Couric and award-winning producer Laurie David ("An Inconvenient Truth") the filmmakers travel from the halls of Washington, D.C., to school cafeterias and home kitchens where overweight children and their families are struggling to live healthier lifestyles.
Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper introduced the film at its world premiere on Sunday in Park City, describing the filmmakers as "brave and diligent" and adding, "I guarantee you will be different after you see this film."
"Fed Up" wastes no time getting to the point. In the United States, one in five children are overweight and that rate is climbing. Worldwide, more people die from obesity than starvation. Statistics saturate the screen, all pointing to a massive failure to avert a major health-care crisis.
Couric, who is passionate about the issue and co-produced the film, says people are misinformed about why they are getting fatter and how to lose weight. Turning its spotlight on the multi-billion-dollar ‘reduced fat’ food and fitness industries, "Fed Up" says they are exacerbating the problem. "What if we are actually making things worse," Couric asks.
According to the filmmakers’ research, fat isn’t the culprit, it’s sugar, and the food industry has been doing its best to cover that up.
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Fifteen-year-old Brady Kluge is one of the epidemic’s victims. At 215 pounds, he feels the social stigma of being obese and says sadly, "I feel like I will always be overweight I’m failing."
Soechtig gave pocket-sized Flip cameras to six young teens and asked them to keep personal diaries of their efforts to lose weight. She said the footage was intended for background research but was so compelling she used it in the film.
"You can’t not love them," she said in an interview before the festival. "They changed how I saw obesity. I had bought into the theory they are lazy, didn’t have will power. I found they are anything but. Their struggles are interwoven into the history of the epidemic."
The scenes filmed by the children are heart wrenching and make the film’s call to action all the more urgent.
According to Soechtig, the kids are doing everything they can to improve their health, but they don’t have the right information and everywhere they turn they are faced with bad options – sugar-laden beverages and processed food, especially at school.
In meticulous detail, the filmmakers chronicle the history of America’s school lunch program. What began as an innocuous program to ensure kids did not go hungry is now wielded as a marketing tool by corporate giants who are more interested in getting children hooked on their products than good nutrition, they say.
The filmmakers also show how the food industry has pressured the federal government to loosen its dietary guidelines. As a result, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and various food-related cancers are on the rise.
Toward its conclusion, the filmmakers draw a strong parallel between nicotine and sugar addictions and suggest that public pressure can force social and regulatory changes. Citing the efforts to improve labeling and restrict advertising of cigarettes and the resulting drop in lung cancer rates, they believe that is the only way change will come about in the food industry.
"You need to vote with your forks and your ballots," Soechtig told a fired-up audience at the premiere.
"Fed Up" screens in the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary Competition at the following times and locations:
- Wednesday, Jan. 22 9:30 p.m. at the Redstone Cinema 1, Park City
- Thursday, Jan. 23 at noon at the Temple Theatre, Park City
- Saturday, Jan. 25 9 a.m. at the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City
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