3 stars (Grade: B)
Joe, a 400-pound Latino boy from Houston, weeps in fear and frustration. He’s not alone. Maggie, a 212-pound 12-year-old from Oklahoma, joins him. Wesley, an overweight 13-year-old in Houston, is desperate.
But Brandon, 15, a 215-pound South Carolinian headed toward diabetes, morbid obesity and being a member of “the first American generation to not live as long as their parents,” is documenting his life on video, reading up on his diet and the causes of his problem, determined to “not be just another fat kid.”
Those are the faces of “Fed Up,” the Katie Couric-backed documentary about America’s spreading childhood obesity epidemic. It’s a frank, dismaying and yet surprisingly upbeat look at a problem the country’s been wrestling with for decades.
The problem, as narrator Couric and the many experts she and director Stephanie Soechtig talk to put it, is that we’ve been looking at the causes all wrong. That business about exercise vs. “sloth” and “lack of willpower” and “sedentary lifestyles” and “poor choices” either is misleading, or is avoiding the bigger issue.
“It’s your fault,” our way of stigmatizing the victims of this epidemic, “is not accurate,” they say.
The elephant-sized issues that we’re avoiding: the pervasiveness of processed foods, packed with sugar in its many forms, and the incessant marketing of those foods to children.
In 90 minutes, Couric & co. trace the first time the problem was recognized — the 1977 McGovern Report from the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs — to the years of efforts to reign in advertising, force food processors to produce more accurate content labels, or to simply get them to cut back on sugar. Those efforts, Couric’s retinue of a couple of dozen experts agree, have failed — thwarted, again and again, by Big Sugar, Big Corn, by Big Pizza, by multinational frozen food concerns.