Unlike the products discussed in “Fed Up,” Stephanie Soechtig’s documentary about the food industry and the rise in obesity can’t be accused of false or misleading labeling. It lives up to its title. Like “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), the Oscar-winning film about climate change, it is a call to action. As a screed, it builds a credible, engaging argument, presenting evidence, statistics, talking-head testimony, whimsical charts, poignant personal stories, and animated illustrations of digestive processes to make its case.
So who’s to blame for this epidemic? The film dismisses what it regards as misleading myths, such as the blame-the-victim mentality that claims that people get fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise. These, Soechtig insists, are red herrings to distract from the real culprit — sugar.
Not only does sugar convert directly into fat, it’s also addictive: Tests on cocaine-addled rats revealed that the junkie rodents gave up their drug of choice for a hit of sugar. It is the dietetic opium of the people, pushed by a powerful industry that manipulates facts, consumers, and politicians to make profits.
Like “King Corn” (2007) and “Food Inc.” (2008), “Fed Up” demonstrates how food corporations employ insidious advertising, often aimed at kids, to promote poor eating habits. To discredit critics, the industry resorts to bogus experts — like the energy companies and their attempts to refute global warming, and the tobacco companies’ efforts to downplay the ill effects of smoking. In one of the film’s more pointed and amusing sequences, it cuts from an ad in a ’60s “Flintstones” episode with Fred and Wilma puffing on Winston cigarettes to a recent commercial in which the Stone Age family pushes Fruity Pebbles cereal. When smoking becomes taboo, just take on another deep-pocketed toxic product.
But Soechtig doesn’t always play fair. A comparison between health club memberships and obesity rates, implying a cause-and-effect relationship, sounds specious. And when the film blames the obesity of young people almost entirely on the food industry, it overlooks such factors as the prevalent, sedentary culture of video games and social media.
Nor does it give equal time to other viewpoints. The few junk food apologists don’t come off well — a Golden Arches spokesperson, for example, insists that Ronald McDonald is a model of civic virtue rather than a panderer of poison to kids. No doubt the filmmakers picked the most damaging sound bites but apparently they didn’t have a lot to work with. At the end of the film they list those who refused to participate — including Michelle Obama, whose well-intended “Let’s Move!” program was hijacked, the film claims, by the food industry.
Unlike most documentaries about greed and injustice, however, this one doesn’t just sigh with resignation. It backs up its outrage with optimism and determination — and a website. Maybe if it gets enough people fed up, it can make the country sugar-free.
In Health & Wellness:Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.