Fed Up, the latest food-related documentary, opens in select theaters nationwide today.
Yesterday night, Dietitians For Professional Integrity had a chance to view the film at its Los Angeles premiere.
Our Fed Up highlights and takeaways:
1) The film does a great job of providing a little food politics 101. We were very happy to see coverage of the 2002 World Health Organization “no more than 10 percent of calories should come from added sugar” controversy. Here is what Dr. Marion Nestle wrote about that fiasco in her book Food Politics:
“In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization (WHO) began work on a global strategy to reduce risk factors for chronic disease, obesity among them. In 2003, it published a research report that advised restricting intake of “free” (added) sugars to 10% or less of daily calories. Although this percentage was similar to that embedded in the USDA’s 1992 Pyramid (7–13% of calories, depending on total intake), sugar industry groups strenuously objected, enlisted senators from sugar-growing states to pressure the DHHS secretary to withdraw funding from WHO, and induced the DHHS chief counsel to send a critique of the report to WHO that had essentially been written by industry lobbyists. When released in 2004, WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health omitted any mention of the background report or the 10% sugar recommendation.”
2) The film touches on two of our favorite subjects — the food industry’s co-optation of science and the problematic sponsorship of nutrition research by the food industry. There is a very telling scene where a researcher who has received over $2 million from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association (spoiler: his studies conclude there is no evidence that links soda to any health issues) is asked whether the calories from a can of soda are metabolically equal to calories from whole food.
3) We were thrilled to see many of our favorite advocates and experts featured, including Dr. Marion Nestle, Michele Simon, Mark Bittman, Michael Moss, Michael Pollan, and Chef Kate Adamick of Cook for America (though not interviewed, Adamick is shown at the end of the film talking to a cafeteria employee about how much money the school has saved using local pinto beans in their recipes cooked from scratch).
4) Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, makes a great point about how if another nation was hurting the health of our children the way our government and the food industry have been doing for decades, there would be outrage and we would be engaging in battle. So, where is that collective outrage?
5) We appreciated that the documentary does not end on a “the subjects we followed lived happily ever after” note. Their daily struggles with food and health — as the film makes very clear, the issue here is not “lack of willpower,” or “just eat less and exercise more!” as the food industry likes to repeat ad nauseum — drive the point home that there needs to be systemic change.
6) The film touches on the issue of marketing to children; not only how prevalent it is, but also how shockingly little power the Federal Trade Commission has to enforce any regulations (in large part due to — you guessed it — industry lobbying).
7) We loved one powerful scene that shows footage from a few decades back, in which a tobacco executive testifies to Congress that there is no scientific evidence to show that tobacco and nicotine are addictive. This is followed by a scene from the present day where a soda executive testifies to Congress that there is no scientific evidence that soda is in any way harmful to health.
8) The film explicitly states that this is not just about overweight and obese individuals. Many Americans “at a normal weight” are sick due to high consumption of highly processed foods.
9) After last night’s premiere, we had the opportunity to briefly chat with one of the teenage subjects. We thanked him for his courage in documenting his journey for the film, and asked him two questions: 1) what did he learn most during this experience, and 2) how was the food in his school these days?
His answers: 1) He learned that even though a food claims to be healthy, you have to read the ingredients and look at the Nutrition Facts label to determine if that is true. 2) Throughout the time he appeared in the film, he was in middle school, and is now in high school. “The food is even worse now.”
We wish the Fed Up team much success.