Fed Up plays like a health PSA version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The scariest scene of 2014 is the explanation of “TOFI” in the new documentary Fed Up. The acronym stands for “thin-outside-fat-inside,” a very real and very common body type where fat content is disproportionate to body mass index. TOFIs do not appear to be obese — they may even appear “skinny” by Mean Girl standards — but inside, they are. MRI scans show a lean body stuffed with fat like cream in a Twinkie. The cause? Eating like a normal person.
We know processed food is bad. What most people don't know is that its running rampant through our diets. Nearly every item you might buy at at grocery store is loaded up with toxins. A person's three square meals are “the new cigarettes” according to Fed Up, a vicious expose from Katie Couric and An Inconvenient Truth producer Laurie David. It's killing the American population faster and quieter than we know. Widespread obesity (obvious and hidden) is an epidemic opening us up to metabolic diseases. Type II diabetes is at an all time high. Kids are contracting diseases that were once rare even in adults. And it all goes back to one common poison: sugar.
Fed Up plays like a health PSA version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. To make the sense of dread even more harrowing, Couric and David all but give up hope on the adult population, hoping to salvage what's left of the 18 and below crowd's physique. Director Stephanie Soechtig turns her camera towards three obese children trying to get back into shape. Hovering around the tween years, the three 215-pound kids count calories, exercise every day, and cry themselves to sleep, praying they'll shed just a few pounds. The one girl, Maggie, even goes on Weight Watchers. She's 12-years-old.
But nothing works for these kids, because even “low fat” granola bars are still loaded with added sugars, a substance one health official interviewed in the film calls a chronic, dose dependent, hepat- (liver) toxin. Without the accompanying fiber found in natural sugar-providers, such as fruit, ingredients like high fructose corn syrup seep directly into the liver, causing direct damage and a pain of hunger for those who think they're eating full meals. Medical research finds sugar to be eight times more addictive than cocaine. These kids want to get healthy, but their bodies insist they eat crap.
Fed Up starts looking like post-apocalyptic sci-fi when the issue starts looking hopeless on a macro level. The plight of weepy 12-year-olds is of no concern to the mega corporations who depend on junk food consumption. Efforts to cut sugary foods out of cafeteria lunches, or package foods with warning labels the same way you might a pack of cigarettes, falls on deaf ears in Washington. Congressman fight in the name of junk food lobbyists — remember when pizza became a vegetable?; Shady information steers American health discourse (While Michelle Obama has publicly campaigned for new dietary consideration, her misguided platform relies on low calorie foods, not sugar count); And worst of all, government programs like the USDA, meant to steer people back to farm-to-table fruits and vegetables, are strong-armed into promoting agriculture programs like the corn and cheese industries. As one talking head eloquently puts it: “Government is subsidizing the health epidemic.”
When Bill Clinton admits to failing the American public by not addressing the sugar problem during his time in office, you know something's wrong. But Fed Up ends on an uplifting note. Not only do the overweight kids start turning their lives around (fresh tomatoes taste nearly as good as Fruit Roll-Ups!), but the muckraking isn't limited to pushing back against a government that will never see the problem. Unlike banks gobbling up our money or cataclysmic climate change, we as individuals can address and solve this problem. Stop eating sugars. Don't let kids eat cafeteria nachos. Cook. And add exercise and calorie counting into the equation after there's a base of nutritious consumption. Because, while you and I might look decent in a pair of swim trunks, there's a good chance that underneath we're still fat ol' TOFIs. And that's terrifying.
Fed Up is out now in theaters.