"Our brains are getting constantly hijacked." This isn't a line from a new "Matrix"-like techno-thriller about hidden conspiracies trying to control the behavior of common people. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be paranoid.
It's a quote from Dr. David Kessler, who was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 1990 to 1997, where he worked extensively on enforcing tobacco regulations. But now he's turned his attention on the next great American health crisis — how and what we eat. It's the subject of the eye-opening new film "Fed Up" from executive producers Katie Couric (Yahoo's global news anchor) and Laurie David ("An Inconvenient Truth").
In the film, Kessler points out the growing pervasiveness of junk food in American life, specifically where children are concerned. He's joined by Dr. Margo Wootan, the Harvard-educated director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "There's junk food at the checkout everywhere: at toy stores, at drug stores," says Wootan. "Go to buy stationary supplies, linens, electronics. Every store these days has junk food right at the eye-level of your kids."
Kessler further explains that it's not just the availability of unhealthy foods that are problematic for children, but also the "emotional gloss" — how they are packaged and marketed. Licensed cartoon characters, included toys, and playground equipment in restaurants all add to the psyhological conditioning for young minds. Kessler says, "You add all these additional layers of stimuli, and in the end, you end up with one of the great public health epidemics of our time."
The film has sparked debate from within the food industry, with the trade group the Grocery Manufacturers Association releasing a statement on Tuesday accusing the film of "ignoring the progress that has been made over the last decade in providing families with healthier options." But the makers of "Fed Up" contend that "80 percent of the 600,000 food products sold in this country have added sugar," and that if the current rate continues, one in three Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes by the year 2050.
Says Couric, "I think it’s clear from our film that it is easy for children to become addicted to the wrong kind of foods from an early age." She tells the press that her intention with "Fed Up" is to alert consumers to how food producers are adversely affecting people without their knowledge.
"I hope those who watch this film will see how we are being brainwashed at an early age by the food industry and the power of that lobby to prevent our legislators from making any meaningful changes," says Couric. "And I hope people will get mad and demand change."
"Fed Up" opens this Friday.