I'm eating almonds right now, not having a soda, and - according to Fed Up, the resoundingly scary documentary about America's obesity crisis - that's a good thing. A serving of almonds and a can of soda have the same number of calories, around 160, but nuts are full of fiber, the beverage full of sugar, and the body processes them in entirely different ways. Not all calories are the same.
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, produced by Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth) and narrated by Katie Couric, Fed Up addresses what many experts warn is a public health epidemic. The statistics are alarming: One in five children in America today is overweight. By 2050, if eating patterns don't change, one in three Americans will have diabetes. In two decades, 95 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese.
"More people will die from the effects of obesity than from starvation," cautions one of the film's talking heads.
And the eat less/exercise more strategy isn't doing the trick.
If there are villains in Fed Up, they come from inside the food industry, from lobbyists paid to dissuade Congress and government officials from what health and dietary studies going back to the 1970s have said: Our diets have too much processed food, too many saturated fats, too much sugar.
With its TV-news-magazine mix of interviews (physicians, nutritionists, Bill Clinton), archival footage, tabloid-y montages, and profiles of kids and families fighting their own personal battles (a 400-pound ninth grader in Texas!), Fed Up succeeds in raising alarms. This is advocacy filmmaking, with links to educational programs, to campaigns to impact school lunch policies, to politicians. (Philadelphia chef/restaurateur Marc Vetri is on the film's advisory board.)
There are all sorts of ways to address this issue - Morgan Spurlock's stunt doc, Super Size Me; Richard Linklater's narrative tale, Fast Food Nation; Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's A Place at the Table, which investigates the links among poverty, hunger and, yes, obesity. Fed Up's marketing campaign calls out the Big Food companies that sell junk food, processed foods, "low-fat" foods packed with sugars, companies that refused to answer the filmmakers' requests for interviews: Kraft, ConAgra, Kellogg's, Coca-Cola, and many, many more.
An expert from the medical and nutrition worlds who receives big checks from the food industry does face the camera, nuancing and massaging the facts, and visibly squirming under Couric's questioning. But even if you dispute the facts, one thing is clear: As a nation, we are fat, and getting fatter.
Fed Up *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Narrated by Katie Couric. Distributed by Radius-TWC.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Five.