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Documentary on Obesity Lacks Policy Muscle (Video)
Documentary on Obesity Lacks Policy Muscle

Documentary on Obesity Lacks Policy Muscle (Video)

A new documentary, Fed Up, produced by bookseller Heather Reisman and environmentalist Laurie David, who wrote An Inconvenient Truth, takes aim at the food industry, and levels much of the blame for the dramatic increase we have seen in the spread of obesity, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says has doubled since 1980.

The film acknowledges that the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act—which requires schools to reduce sugar and sodium and serve lower-fat meat and dairy products, whole-grain breads, and lots of fruits and vegetables—mandates healthier school meals. But it focuses on the two issues on which nutritionists failed to prevail in that bill: the designation of tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable and the unlimited use of potatoes as a vegetable. Fed Up does not acknowledge that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act is one hard-fought battle that nutritionists won with the help of the White House. It also doesn’t mention that the new school-meal rules are strong enough that the School Nutrition Association, which represents school-meal preparers, and some students are urging Congress to roll back the new rules when child-nutrition programs come up for reauthorization in 2015.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Fed Up is that, while it blames big food conglomerates for the obesity problem, it doesn’t give credit to people who have confronted the food industry and doesn’t offer any new ideas on how to address obesity in public policy other than bigger labeling on soda cans for sugar content. David said at the Capitol Hill screening, “Whatever issue you’re working on, [Fed Up] will help move that agenda.”

Couric is challenging people to give up all sugar for 10 days, though the proper term would be sweeteners, because she has said she means high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and juice or artificial sweeteners. Couric is starting the challenge herself on Monday. That may be a good way to get people to talk about the film, but what happens after 10 days? Are people supposed to give up all sweetener-containing products forever?

As people who are well-connected in the entertainment industry, Couric, David and Fed Up director Stephanie Soechtig have big plans for their film. Soechtig said at the briefing that a Spanish-language version will be released this Friday, and she has plans for a shorter version that can be shown in schools.

If the movie is shown in schools, the food industry will undoubtedly demand equal time or produce a competing film. It looks like it will be left up to the techers to point out that the feelings of rage that Fed Up seems inclined to create are useless unless they lead to the step-by-step actions that might actually reduce obesity.


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