Yesterday I saw the documentary “Fed Up” and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s the Katie Couric-narrated exposé about how the processed food products American kids live on are basically killing them. Seriously, our children make up the first generation that might have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The culprit? Sugar. The food industry adds it to everything, and it markets these sugar-laden products to kids to get them hooked on the stuff early. And the government is complicit, subsidizing corn production (aka high-fructose corn syrup) and putting very few regulations on these giant, deep-pocketed corporations. To paraphrase one of the film’s experts: This is the great public health crisis of our time.
The heartbreaking part is that the overweigh children featured in the film are all trying so hard to lose weight, but can’t. That's because they’ve been led to believe that if they just exercise and eat less — and eat “low fat” — they’re doing the right thing. But do you know how the manufacturers make all those low-fat food products palatable? By dumping sugar in them. And sugar leads to fat. And disease. The statistics shared in the film are shocking — maddening, really: In 1980 there were no children with Type 2 (aka adult-onset) diabetes. In 2010, 57,630 kids had it. You may say we don’t need the government telling us what to eat. Agreed. And that parents should play the biggest role here. Also agreed. But what about some regulations? And how about limiting the ways these companies market to children?
As several experts in the film noted, the deck is stacked against this generation. “Trying to eat healthy is like swimming upstream,” one said. “We need the government and the food-industry giants to wake up and realize they’re poisoning our kids.” And yes, we also need parents to become more educated and aware of what good food is (and isn’t), which is why a movie like this is so important. So if you have an opportunity to see it, please do. You can find out if it’s playing near you, or wait for Netflix. In the meantime, here are my five biggest takeaways:
Sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Actually, according to the study featured in the film, it’s eight times more addictive.This is why the corporations market to young kids (think Dora fruit snacks and Mickey Mouse juice boxes), so they have customers for life. The food industry is acting like the tobacco industry did before we all learned that smoking was killing us and the government stepped in with massive regulations. (Remember how those companies maintained/flat-out lied that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer?)
Sugar is added to EVERYTHING. Pasta sauce, salad dressing, mayonnaise, sausage, bread, chips, etc. It also wears many hats, so you have to know what to look for. Dextrose, dextrin, fructose, cane sugar, maple syrup, molasses (and dozens more) are all sugar and…sugar is sugar, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, who’s featured in the film, and who is an authority on the subject. FYI, we’re supposed to have only about 25 grams a day (one teaspoon equals four grams).
The sugar industry is scary-powerful. One of the most infuriating parts of the documentary: the way the government has, for the last 50 years, buried important information on the negative effects of sugar. And take a look at any nutritional label. Notice how things like sodium and fat have a number in the “% Daily Value” column? Not sugar. Because if it did, the numbers would be staggering (e.g. even a small organic juice box contains 25 grams of sugar—100 percent of the daily allowance).
They’ve infiltrated our schools. Eighty percent of public schools have a contract with either Pepsi or Coke (and one can of Coke has 39 grams, or about 10 teaspoons, of sugar) and 50 percent serve fast food (as in Papa Johns, McDonald's, Chick-fil-A). As one expert put it, “Some schools have become like a 7-11 with books.” You may also remember that Congress approved pizza as a vegetable for the national school lunch program.
It’s not just about overweight kids. “Skinny fat” is a real thing, and kids can be it, too (the film showed MRIs of thin kids who eat junk and their fat can be there, just on the inside…eek!). And despite all the campaigns to get kids moving, exercise won't do anything for this generation if we don’t teach them how to eat whole foods — real foods — foods that are not made by corporations and pumped full of sugar. But, again, the deck is stacked against them.
Even if your kid eats nothing but kale and quinoa, this will affect you. Because by 2050, one third of Americans will have diabetes — imagine how that’s going to drive up healthcare costs. This really is a public health crisis and, according to the film, we’ve been going about it all wrong. Now it’s time to make it right. I officially drank the (sugar-free) Kool-Aid, and I am fed up. You should be, too.