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Q
Fed Up with Big Food?

I just saw the movie "Fed Up" about the obesity epidemic and the roles of the food industry and the government in causing it. I came away horrified and very depressed since I don't think anything will change. What do you think?

A
Answer (Published 6/16/2014)

"Fed Up" is a hard-hitting new movie that takes an unsparing look at the obesity epidemic. Much of what you learn from the movie is shocking. For example, if nothing changes in two decades, 95 percent of all Americans will be overweight or obese; by 2050 one-third of all Americans will have type 2 diabetes; sugar is being added to 80 percent of the 600,000 food items on our supermarket shelves; and statistically, today's children are the first in two centuries expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. These are grim facts that should be a wake-up call to Americans who haven't been paying close attention to the obesity epidemic, its causes, and the urgent need to reverse it.

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Many people may experience sugar shock as they watch the film, which comes down very hard on the sugar industry. For example:

  • In 2003, the Bush administration threatened to eliminate U.S. financial support of the World Health Organization if WHO published a report advocating that sugar should account for no more than 10 percent of daily calories - and WHO withheld the report.
  • On the question of why so much sugar is added to processed foods in the first place - it was a food industry strategy to replace flavor that was lost in low-fat products. Here, consumers who thought they were doing the right thing by steering clear of fat, unknowingly increased their intake of sugar, which disrupts insulin levels and metabolism.
  • We"ve doubled our sugar intake in this country since 1977
  • Sugar affects the brain much as cocaine does, creating cravings for more and more.

Narrated by Katie Couric, "Fed Up" can generate outrage at the food industry, as well as sadness as it follows four obese youngsters struggling to lose weight. The words "eat less and exercise more" are an incomplete answer to what these kids face, and the movie makes the point that it is callous to shrug off their problems with such a cliché.

I would like to think that this film would shake things up and generate consumer demands for our food supply to become healthier, and for the government to unequivocally take our side rather than remain in partnership with the food industry. For that to happen, millions of people are going to have to see it and be moved to act. I am reminded that this year is the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. People are still smoking in this country, but not nearly as many as in 1963, and nobody today thinks that cigarettes are harmless. I hope it won't take 50 years to get a handle on the obesity epidemic, and the pivotal role that sugar plays in it. We can't afford to wait that long.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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