Accessibility trumps artistry in “Fed Up,” a formulaic and functional documentary that nevertheless proves effective at getting the message out about America’s addiction to unhealthy food. Focusing specifically on childhood obesity, the insidious practices of big food companies and the lack of political will to address the problems, Stephanie Soechtig’s film is the latest in a long line of call-to-action docs following in the footsteps of “An Inconvenient Truth” (and boasts that film’s executive producer, Laurie David to boot). Slick execution and big-name participants, including narrator Katie Couric and an interview with former President Bill Clinton, puts the pic in prime position to become one of the year’s highest-profile commercial docs.
Couric opens the film with alarmist voiceover — turning her years of reporting stories about the obesity epidemic into a mark of authority on the subject — accompanied by clips from the likes of YouTube and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” But the facts quickly pile up: It doesn’t take much convincing to connect the dots between Americans doubling their sugar intake since 1977 and the explosion of Type 2 diabetes in the past 30 years. At the same time, the food and weight-loss industries continue to emphasize the concept of “calorie in calorie out” (you can eat whatever you want, as long as you exercise enough to burn it off) — a fallacy effectively debunked here.
“Fed Up” leans heavily on emotional video diaries from a variety of kids struggling with weight issues to give the subject context. They range from 14-year-old Joe, who decides to get lap band surgery, to 12-year-old Maggie, who exercises regularly but can’t lose weight. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Brady struggles to change his eating habits and 16-year-old Nashwah admits she just loves food and sneaks out to buy snacks if her mother doesn’t have them in the house (it can’t help that ever since she was young, teachers would reward good behavior and learning with candy). The prognosis isn’t good: This is the first generation of kids in two centuries expected to live shorter lives than their parents.
So why isn’t anything being done about it? “Fed Up” aims to get viewers fired up enough to start a revolution, pointing to the collusion between government and big food as the biggest hurdle. Soechtig asserts that in the conflict between promoting health and promoting industry, the clear winner is industry. Processed food remains cheap and accessible, school nutrition budgets have been slashed while fast food is served in more than half of U.S. schools, and companies dump so much sugar (in so many different forms) into food labeled non-fat or low fat that “healthier” options are often anything but. Attempts to crack down on practices that are clearly harmful to kids are inevitably met with “nanny state” talking points from right-wing commentators and politicians.
But “Fed Up” acknowledges the problem crosses party lines, targeting Michelle Obama’s “Get Moving” campaign as a massive failure for only addressing half the problem: advocating for exercise while doing next to nothing to encourage healthier eating habits (due to the political risk of taking on deep-pocketed food companies). Couric also presses Clinton, who became an advocate for healthy eating after leaving office, on whether he thinks his administration did enough to address the problem. He admits they might have “missed it.”