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'Fed Up' review: A calorie is not a calorie

Filmmakers pose at a press conference for "Fed Up."
Filmmakers pose at a press conference for "Fed Up."
Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images

Fed Up


Over the past ten years, it seems documentaries about the U.S. food system have grown in number. While the ones that are successful tend to be ones that work to gross out the audience or inspire rage at horrible conditions for animals set for slaughter, “Fed Up” tackles a popular theme without relying on ickiness: obesity in America. Narrated by Katie Couric, childhood obesity’s rise is explained through a look at the changes in the food industry since around 1980.

Highlighting studies that have been slid under the rug, “Fed Up” focuses on findings from 1977 and after that have been ignored and replaced with a sweeping, exponentially increasing reliance on processed foods. Pointing out the changes in the food industry since approximately 1980, “Fed Up” logically argues that these changes have led to the shocking increase in childhood obesity in the U.S. Though a wave of exercise and fat-free solutions has risen to make consumers attempt to take charge of their bodies, “Fed Up” exposes the trickery food companies rely on, mainly substituting the cut fat with extra sugars. The film also argues that a calorie is not a calorie, that calories from food like almonds are processed differently than calories from soda and many other things.

“Fed Up” presents perspectives from varied sources, balancing between politicians citing the manipulations of food companies to prevent positive change within food policy and those that study the effects of different food on our bodies. Former President Clinton and famed author Michael Pollan are two of the respected names interviewed. Sources concur that the government is influenced by the profits of the food industry and even the World Health Organization has been dissuaded to share their opposing findings or fear a loss of funds. Instead, food companies use spin to gloss over the facts and limit change; sugar has been added in heavy doses in many products (creating addiction), consumers are encouraged to put cheese on everything, and fast food is allowed to take over the school lunch programs by labeling pizza and French fries as permissible vegetable options.

While “Fed Up” centers on how the food industry has negatively changed in the past 35 to 40 years or so, it strangely targets Michelle Obama for not doing enough to expose the food industry’s manipulation. Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign are labeled ineffectual for not getting to the real problem (apparently the filmmakers are unaware of her efforts with the White House garden and using it for many projects along with appearing on “Sesame Street” to promote the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables). The filmmakers are just bothered by her compromising position to not point fingers at food companies’ unrestricted reliance on sugar to sell products. Obama refuses to attack companies but rather promotes a healthy lifestyle with exercise AND a healthy diet. The filmmakers’ presentation on Obama feels too personal and unnecessary.

As Katie Couric narrates, “Fed Up” started as just a little story she discussed early in her career but has become a lingering topic; obesity will not be conquered nor cease to garner so much attention until changes are implemented in the food industry. The real tragedy is the numerous youth, three interviewed in the film, which will battle obesity without the proper tools and knowledge.

Rating for “Fed Up:” B

For more information on this film, click here.