“Fed Up” is a documentary by Stephanie Soechtig and executive producers Katie Couric and Laurie David. It aims to shed light on the growing obesity epidemic (especially the childhood obesity epidemic), flesh out the real cause, and offer practical solutions.
Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and director Stephanie Soechtig, FED UP will change the way you eat forever.
I first heard about this documentary a few months ago and immediately put it on my “watch and review” list. It sounded good and featured some of the leading alternative-voice doctors and researches.
Before I get to the review, I want to preface this with a couple comments:
- I did not research the documentary prior to watching it nor did I read other reviews of it.
- I wrote the notes for the review in real time. I’m not going back to parse every little detail and get every quote exactly right. If something is in quotations, assume that’s roughly what was said.
- I’m highly skeptical of anything produced by Katie Couric or Laurie David. We don’t need to get into it here, but I thought you should know. I am capable, however, of judging each piece of work objectively on its own merits. I think you’ll find this to be a very unbiased review. When I pressed play I wasn’t expecting to like it or dislike it. I thought little more than, “let’s see what we have here.”
Okay, let’s start.
My Review (and alternative solution) of “Fed Up”
I’d like to set the stage for this review by giving you the base conclusion: The first 60 minutes of Fed Up are highly educational and will shift the perspective of anyone currently operating on mainstream information. The final 30 minutes is a sales video for Big Government, a hit piece aimed at Big Agriculture, and a total failure in terms identifying the most practical solution for the end viewer (I will disclose the real solution in this review).
Chain of Events: I’ve sketched out what I believe are the eight main topics presented in Fed Up:
- Calories-in, Calories-out.
- Food industry spin and what we should really focus on.
- The hyper-palatability of processed food.
- Michelle Obama’s fight to end the epidemic.
- School lunches.
- Marketing junk food to kids.
- The cost of medical intervention.
- The role of government in ending the epidemic.
Anecdotes: Fed Up follows four different kids who serve as anecdotes and appeals to emotion throughout the film:
- Brady Kluge
- Maggie Valentine
- Wesley Randall
- Joe Lopez
The distribution is pretty solid. Three boys, one girl. Two whites, one hispanic, and one black. Cultural norms do come into play when discussing obesity, so it’s important that they chose anecdotes from a good distribution.
Act 1: Calories-in, Calories-Out
Fed Up’s first section tackles the concept of “eat less, move more” and does a fantastic job laying waste to this outdated concept. They show the correlation between the doubling of the fitness industry and the doubling of obesity rates.
They point out that 2/3 of Americans were overweight or obese a decade after the fitness revolution started (when before, they weren’t). And they do a great job of making sure to note that obesity rates are skyrocketing across the globe, not just in the U.S.
The point isn’t that the fitness industry is responsible, it’s that food quality is more important than quantity and exercise.
Brady Kluge and Maggie Valentine are the main anecdotes for this section. Maggie notes how her doctor told her to eat less, exercise more, and join Weight Watchers (shoot me). She’s disappointed because she’s too young to join Weight Watchers and was also rejected by a nutritionist her mom took her to because of her age.
“We know we have the tools. We know what to do.” After facing rejecting from the nutritionist, Maggie’s mom insists that they’ll solve the problem on their own. “Cereal by nature is low in fat. Cereal is a good go-to for pretty much any meal replacement.” It’s clear that Maggie’s mom does not have the solution.
Maggie — legitimately sad and depressed — exclaims, “I’m not sure why I’m not losing weight now that I’m eating healthy and exercising!” She’s been obese since before the age of eight. The anecdote is a good one. You can’t help but feel that the world around Maggie has let her down and it’s certainly not her fault.
Gary Taubes — author of Why We Get Fat and a researcher featured in Fed Up — nails it when he says, “We’re blaming the wrong things and it’s a crime. The kids are doing what we tell them, but we’re telling them the wrong things.”
Act 2: Food industry spin and what we should really focus on
We don’t make it too far into Fed Up before the spotlight is turned on the food industry.
The film points out that much of the cited research that becomes government policy is funded by Big Agriculture and processed food manufacturers. They point to research funded by Coca-Cola that claimed soft drinks have nothing to do with the obesity epidemic.
Next, they bring on Dr. David Allison, a medical doctor bought and paid for by soft drink companies, who once attempted to make the case that the evidence linking soft drinks and obesity is not solid. They show a clip of him struggling to answer a question, making him look like a fool.
I’m no fan of Big Agriculture, processed food manufacturers, or David Allison. Fed Up does a great job of laying out an important point here, though half of the point is missed in the conclusion presented later. And I’m sure that their editing of the David Allison interview made his confusion seem much worse than it was.
It’s at this point that we’re introduced to Wesley Randall, an obese black kid who is being questioned by his mother after school. “What did you have for lunch today?” Wesley replies, while snacking on Special K cereal, “Hamburger, french fries, chocolate milk, and juice.” “Milk and juice?”, his mom asks. “They serve us both,” he says.
Her focus on milk and juice is interesting. While certainly not productive choices, she seems to miss the desire to question the main course. Is that because she thinks a hamburger and french fries are acceptable? I don’t know, but I do know that Wesley didn’t buy the Special K cereal he’s currently wolfing down, which contrary to popular belief is a nutritional nightmare.
The producers do ask her about her efforts, which only leads to more confusion on my part. “We limit our starches and breads (she apparently doesn’t realize Special K is a starch), we eat healthier snacks (not that I saw), and we eat lean hot pockets instead of regular hot pockets (facepalm).”
As we look at the epidemic of health, the epidemic of misinformation is even more obvious. In all four households highlighted, the parents are operating on information that is putting their children at risk. They’re ground zero. And all of the parents are obese as well.
Wesley’s mom also notes, “It’s more expensive to buy healthier food. Chips and cereal are cheaper.” Of course, this is only an illusion, as I pointed out in “Eating Healthy is Too Expensive” is a Lame, Shallow Excuse.
Fed Up compares two meals side by side to show that eating healthy is actually not more expensive in many cases, except they include four slices of whole grain bread in the “healthy” meal. Oops. I guess they didn’t interview Gary Taubes long enough. And while they did manage to find one example meal that’s cheaper, by and large, the financial outlay for eating healthier IS greater when only comparing food costs.
Thankfully, they do touch on the fact that none of this is about genetics and they score big with the statistic that in 1980 there were zero cases of adolescent type II diabetes versus 57,638 cases in 2010. And they do a good job connecting this to the low-fat dogma and the government food pyramid.
But, back to the food industry we go…
Fed Up highlights the rejection of the McGovern report by Big Agriculture, showing how the guidelines were revised to focus on buying leaner products with less fat. The consequence of this was the explosion of low fat, high sugar products and a doubling of America’s sugar intake between 1977 and 2000.
Another doctor, Dr. Hyman, makes the important statement that sugar is toxic — though it has a safe threshold — and that the behaviors we associate with obesity (lack of willpower, lack of self-control, sedentism, etc.) are the result of the obesity cycle, not the cause. That’s a HUGE point that I’m glad wasn’t left on the editing room floor.
Fed Up also does a great job making the case that sugar consumption isn’t just about cookies and cakes. It’s about processed starches and the fact that there are 60,000 processed food products and 80% of them have added sugar. Almost all of them contain highly processed starches. I believe it was Dr. Hyman who returned to say, “You can eat a bowl of corn flakes with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added cornflakes. Metabolically, they’re the same.” Powerful illustration.
Enter Joe Lopez.
Joe is a 14 year old obese hispanic kid who is hovering close to 400 pounds. His dad says that “The family has always been heavy. I guess it’s culture.” He comments that his mother, Joe’s Grandmother, had a rule that you had to clean your plate before leaving the table.
Joes mom adds, “Big is beautiful for the hispanic family.” Nothing Joe is saying is very telling. The parents, on the other hand, are digging themselves further and further in a hole. Joe’s dad offers, “I’m not to blame. If I didn’t give him the food, others would. I wish I had control over it, but I don’t.”
In my estimation, the obesity epidemic has little to do with culture and more to do with parental leadership and excuse-making. The “clean your plate” rule is a good example, and I’ve outlined more at Reboot Your Kids. But this family is a perfect example of how well excuses flow and how responsibility is conveniently overlooked.
As you’ll see, and as Fed Up pretends to miss, everything can be traced back to family (and it has nothing to do with culture). Food manufacturers, school lunches, food prices, politics — they’re all scapegoats.
Act 3: The hyper-palatability of processed food
There’s a lot more solid education throughout section three. Fed Up cites the cocaine-rat study, which found that 40 of 43 cocaine addicted rats switched to and preferred sugar water over cocaine when given the choice and experienced binge eating, cravings, and withdrawal when sugar was withheld.
I don’t know how viable that study is. Frankly, I don’t care. It wouldn’t change the scope of the conversation either way.
One important point was made in this section: that we’re getting kids addicted to sugar as infants, starting with baby formula. To Fed Up, this is a Big Agriculture conspiracy to create future customers. Maybe they’re right, but I don’t think it’s a helpful theory in terms of finding solutions. Babies don’t buy formula, they don’t require formula, and formula manufacturers don’t force you to buy it.
Yes, I understand that not everyone can breast feed. But the majority of kids are given formula for no other reason than parental choice, not dictated by any limitations on breast milk supply.
The section closes by documenting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation of no more than 10% of calories from sugar on a daily basis versus the sugar industry’s suggestion of 25%. I was surprised — and glad — to see that Fed Up had the balls to note that both Republicans and Democrats shot down the WHO recommendations and chose to protect Big Agriculture instead. Conveniently, this is left out in the conclusion.
Also highlighted was the fact that the American government extorted the WHO by withholding over 400 million dollars in funding until they agreed to pull their report. They definitively state that the government is both complacent and complicit in the obesity epidemic.
Well done. For now.
Act 4: Michelle Obama
Truthfully, this section is a lot of wish-wash between praise for Michelle Obama and disappointment that she hasn’t done more.
I do want to highlight one fantastic point that eventually gets lost in the conclusion: Michelle allowed food manufacturers to partner with her, talked the country into believing they could make helpful changes, and then used those changes (which weren’t helpful) as a marketing tool to sell more reformulated processed foods.
Keep that mind for later.
Another point I’ll add here: Food companies desperately want the conversation to center around calories and sedentism. It’s the only avenue they have. If the discussion and the public’s scrutiny EVER turns to ingredients (like I want it to), they’re finished. Thankfully, the government, including Michelle Obama, wholly cooperates in the calorie/sedentism myth.
Also pointed out in this section is the conflict of interest the USDA (the government) has. On the one hand, they promote low fat and low sugar for better health. On the other hand, they’ve given the corn industry (which makes corn based sweeteners) 8 billion dollars in subsidies and bragged about the sales growth of full fat cheeses by participating in the push to sneak cheese products into everything.
Cheese production, of course, skyrocketed when low fat milk was introduced because the fat that was being skimmed off the milk had to be used for something. That’s not to say that cheese is bad — it’s not — it just shows the blatant conflict of interest and the unintended consequences of government promoting and creating policy around bad science.
Act 5: School lunches
Next, the focus turns to the quality of school lunches and points that government schools (just called schools in Fed Up), serve the food industry more than the health of students and are ruled by fast food companies.
- In 2006, 80% of all [government] high schools operated under exclusive contract with soda companies. In 2012, more than 50% of school districts served branded fast food.
- Harry Truman signed the school lunch act in 1946 to end malnutrition issues faced by military recruits (wowzers).
- In 2010, Obama signed the Healthy, Hungry Free Kids Act. A Democrat senator from Minnesota lobbied to protect pizza on the school lunch menu on behalf of a corporation who supplies 70% of pizza to schools. The defense was that a slice of pizza should be counted as a vegetable. Brilliant.
- In 2012, the standards were revised. Lunch budgets were increased by six cents (yes, six cents) per child, focused on calorie limits (tada!), and still include french fries and pizza as vegetables.
Does it bother you that school lunches were tied to military initiatives or that every decision made about your children’s health by government is tied to how much money they’ll get from X industry? That’s what we should really be FED UP about.
Act 6: Marketing junk food to Kids
I think we’re at about the hour mark now if I remember correctly. This is where Fed Up turns from solid educational programming to misguided, biased activism.
The focus is placed heavily on the role of government in regulating food companies. The villain cited from here on out is the marketing of junk food to children.
The government — which is magically relieved of all its “complacency and complicity” by three clicks of Katie Couric’s heels — is now shown to have tried to stop this advertising epidemic since the 70s. And it’s the food manufacturers who have shot them down.
Couric wants you to believe that the government is on your side and food manufacturers are against you. And the government — which is all powerful, even possessing a monopoly on violence — was forced to bow down to the money of the food manufacturers. This toddler-like fantasy plays out over and over again.
In 2004, our Congressional heroes tried to band together yet again to fight the Big Food advertising monster, only to be defeated a second time by the almighty food industry. Shucks!
“Companies say they can regulate themselves and they can’t!” exclaims someone I can’t remember. “The fox is guarding the hen house!”
Eh, not really. If you want the truth, it’s this: Parents are [failing at] guarding the hen house, willingly paying the fox, and the fox is paying the government who cashes the checks and then pretends to be outraged.
Fed Up makes the case that every time the good guys in government try to come in with regulations, the food manufacturers and right-wingers cry about the “Nanny State.”
The section ends with Fed Up removing responsibility entirely from parents, schools, and everyone else and placing it squarely on food manufacturers. This leads nicely into act seven and eight, where Fed Up attempts a hard sell on government as the only solution.
Act 7: The cost of medical intervention
Our focus is now turned to the cost of this epidemic. Weight loss surgeries have increased five fold since 2001, a statistic that’s used to make this statement: “We’ll send our kids to have mutilating procedures but lack the political will to properly fund school nutrition and ban junk food advertising to children. We’ve placed private profit ahead of public health.”
This is both a straw man and a false dichotomy. Properly funding school nutrition has nothing to do with the obesity epidemic, nor does junk food advertising. Those things certainly don’t help, but they’re far from a cause.
Food manufacturers would certainly be to blame if they were somehow limiting the supply of real food. They’re not. The only entity doing that is government.
Interspersed between dogmatic statements about our virtuous government is an important highlight on TOFIs (Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside). They note that 40% of non-obese people have the same metabolic disorders and future medical outcomes as obese people, just with no visible symptoms.
Almost all children who are TOFI are pre-diabetic. This is a fact that is lost on the majority of the population, so I’m glad they made it.
Mostly, this section is a tie-in to the final act, where doom and gloom scenarios are intermixed with “what if we take government action?” motivational cues.
Act 8: Government to the rescue.
I knew that with Katie Couric and Laurie David at the helm, education and a sensible, practical solution couldn’t coexist in the same documentary.
The final act of Fed Up is a government love affair. And they use Big Tobacco to highlight the government’s success at using taxation, warning labels, and regulations to squash public health crises caused by big bad business.
Katie Couric slips up when speaking about warning labels and says, “but WE didn’t stop there” when introducing taxation as a successful deterrent to tobacco use. “We” is used because Katie identifies and aligns herself with government regulations and intervention. It’s been her preferred solution for everything I’ve ever seen her talk about.
They tie in Big Tobacco by insisting that food manufacturers are behaving just like Big Tobacco.
There are two big problems with this. One, Tobacco is still not heavily regulated. And two, tobacco use most likely plummeted due to the simple fact that people became educated and decided they didn’t want to die. Not because of a warning label and a special tax, but because of actually being witness to the destruction.
“Tobacco remains the least regulated product that Americans consume,” said Matt Myers of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“What has changed over the years is that no member of Congress wants to be associated with a tobacco company, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take their campaign contributions, fly on their jets and do their bidding behind closed doors,” Myers said.
The government is still in bed with the tobacco industry. That’s because the government is in bed with everyone. But that doesn’t stop Katie from giving them credit. “Where would we be if we hadn’t acted?” And she carries this on to the obesity epidemic: “Where will the soldiers and first responders come from when everyone has obesity related diseases?”
That’s a popular appeal to emotion. Many industries will be greatly affected by the obesity epidemic, but Katie — just like a politician — chooses “heroes” to use as examples. Will you let our heroes die?
“What if every can of soda had a warning label? What if fast food chains were BANNED from public schools? What if you could see the percentage of RDA of sugar on labels? What if celebrities had to pitch a vegetable every time they pitched a soft drink? How many lives could we save?”
She turns to Bill Clinton, who offers, “I think the government has a leading role to play here.”
Again, it’s a false dichotomy filled with straw men. They’re solutions that sound good and do nothing. There’s a practical solution staring us in the face. But first, we have to get some things out of the way.
Conclusion and a Practical Solution
At the end of the film, we return to Brady and his family as they make a push to remove sugar and processed foods from their life. Armed with the right information, they charge forward.
Brady’s mom highlights how great she feels and offers, “The most important thing you can do for your family is cook real food.” She’s started to make sense now.
After 6 months, she’s lost 60 pounds and is off her high blood pressure meds. Dad has lost 36 pounds and Brady has lost 27.
But wait! There’s a dramatic turn of events that PROVES government is the only solution.
A few months later, Brady had gained the weight back. The case is made that our environment, filled with processed foods and junk food advertising, is impossible to deal with. Without government, people like Brady just can’t be successful long term.
The next screen begins to list all the food companies who declined to be interviewed. Note that Michelle Obama is also on the list (near the end).
So what’s the solution?
All I can do is tell you the truth. You’re free to disagree, but I’ve been thinking about, debating, and philosophizing on these issues for over a decade and my recommendations are based on legitimate principles that you would certainly agree with if we had time to parse them all here.
The obesity epidemic is not a DIRECT result of food manufacturers or junk food advertising. It’s not a DIRECT result of poor quality school lunches. It’s not a DIRECT result of profit. It’s not a DIRECT result of laziness or a lackadaisical nature of obese people.
Here are the three main direct causes:
- Misinformation. Parents mislead their children because they’re misled (mostly by government and the government-influenced medical community). The smoking example was a good one. Nobody knew how bad smoking was, then we knew, and even though we were addicted, we’ve mostly quit. And the more we see that psychology is just as important in fighting food addiction and obesity, the better off we’ll be.
- Parental leadership. Being misled is only an excuse if you continue to fight to search for answers. Being complacent or accepting defeat makes the problem your fault. Also, you can’t complain about school lunches when you send your children to public school, which is a horrific place on many other counts. Food advertising doesn’t matter if your TV doesn’t also double as your child’s babysitter. The surplus of fake food available in grocery stores has no bearing on whether or not that food enters your home, nor does it prevent you from supplying your family with real food. I could go on — there are many ways parents can take responsibility for this issue that they’re avoiding (and that Fed Up avoided because it didn’t fit their political agenda).
- Government. Their authority and policies of those in government are the most direct cause of the epidemic. They’ve subsidized fake food, they’ve miseducated the population, they’ve promoted bad science, they’ve designed the school lunch menus, they’ve manipulated the issue, they’ve extorted the WHO, they’ve certified the doctors, they’ve signed the contracts with Big Food, they’ve attacked local farmers, they’ve destroyed real food, they’ve funded the bad science, they’ve created the medical standards, they’ve given special treatment and protection to food manufacturers, they’ve profited from both sides of the issue (cause and prevention), and they’ve cashed a hell of a lot of lobbying checks in the process. Anyone who cares to look at this objectively can see that government is a dumpster fire. Where most people would see schizophrenia, Katie Couric sees a clear solution!
In Playing Politics With Food: Why Consumers Are Losing I outlined precisely why food manufacturers are NOT to blame and why we should stop hoping for the government to magically do the right thing when they’re incentivized to protect the status quo. Most importantly, I outlined why you should stop believing that the government gives half a **** about your health.
The food manufacturers DO — at some level — care about your health. And the more YOU care about your own health, the more they’ll care because they need to earn your dollars. Also keep in mind that “Big Agriculture” and “Big Food” is a product of government (along with Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, the military industrial complex, and on and on). Without government, we’d be dealing with much smaller, less powerful private organizations who are more in tune with earning dollars.
The government, on the other hand, just takes your dollars by force. They also take dollars from food companies by force (making food more expensive). They don’t care what you think either way. And without government, the food manufacturers wouldn’t be able to produce junk so cheaply, avoid lawsuits, create monopolies, and play all the other games afforded to them by the existence of politicians who love inflating their personal bank accounts.
The government steals from you directly, steals from the food companies directly, and then gets paid off by food companies for special treatment. Then, when you get sick (at the hands of their misinformation campaigns, bad science, and unjust regulations), they get paid off by the medical community. And they’re now moving toward profiting from ALL your healthcare needs. All under the guise that they’re magically virtuous and immune to doing bad things. Everything is for your wellbeing, you see.
It’s the fairy tale I’m most tired of. Most angry about. And most interested in doing away with.
Truth: You don’t need the government to babysit your kids. You don’t need warning labels. You don’t need to be punished with special taxes. You don’t need food manufacturers to be banned from advertising. You don’t need to give up more of your freedoms in return for health laws aimed at pseudo-issues that continue to hide the truth.
Here’s how you can take action immediately to solve this issue in your own home:
- Learn the truth (that’s what we do here) and act on it.
- Take responsibility for the outcome of your immediate family and stop worrying about what everyone else does and thinks.
- Stop playing the victim card, pointing fingers, and placing your hope in empty suits in Washington (like Fed Up wants you to do). BE the change you want to see in the world.
It’s fairly simple, though I do acknowledge that it’s not easy. That’s why I’m here to help. I desperately want to end this epidemic.
Remember, I started Rebooted Body because I was furious that the truth was so buried. When I saw what the truth did in my own life, I was motivated to shout it from the rooftops.
There are very few people on your side. I’m one of them. And there are others like me. Let us help you and then tell everyone you know. Amazing things can happen through nothing more than personal action.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.