Thursday, September 25, 2014

Movie Review: Fed Up

I think my feelings towards this movie can be summed in 2 words:

While I think the central message given at the end of the movie is a strong one, that people should be primarily eating home-cooked meals made from fresh and local meats and vegetables while limiting or avoiding processed foods, there is too much of what I find to be a recurring theme in most of these movies.  This theme is that personal responsibility is not a central part of the answer to our obesity epidemic.

To begin with, there are some parts of this movie that I agree with.  The government is certainly making the problem worse by subsidizing bad food, proposing terrible, confusing, and oftentimes conflicting recommendations, and essentially being a puppet for the food industry.  Advertising junk food to kids is also a pretty hot button issue that certainly makes a parent's job much more difficult.  Finally, bringing the food industry in to school cafeterias is also a pretty troubling move that even the most staunch proponent of liberty would have to question.  In the movie they put up clips from the usual bozos from Fox News that decry the nanny state that is reinforced when any form of government regulation on food is proposed.  This is a false dichotomy, one can be for personal responsibility/liberty as well as intelligent regulation within the food industry, the problem is intelligence in this country is lacking.  If you don't believe this, realize that if you feel that television advertising is damaging to children, you could always turn the TV off.  Or, if you still want them to watch television, you could remove the commercials from the program and let them watch their shows a day late.  

The movie interviews many children who are dealing with the many health and social complications associated with obesity.  You can't help but feel for these children as they tell their stories of being ostracized by classmates and feeling like they are different from their peers.  While I believe personal responsibility is going to play a central role in fighting the obesity epidemic, you really can't blame the kids for the problems they face.  When dealing with children, I don't believe the lack of personal responsibility lies with them, it lies with their parents.  It's not a far cry to say that children that were raised in a household of violence are more likely to raise their kids that way, why is it groundbreaking to think that an adult who is raised to become obese and that becomes obese would raise children that would have the same problem?  It's interesting to note that every parent of these children was either very overweight or obese.

This is probably not a popular belief, especially with parents, but it's certainly my belief.  While I believe the food advertising directed at kids likely plays a large role in the obesity epidemic, my question is why are the kids spending so much time watching television if the ads are damaging?  The answer is simple, it's easy.  Likewise, why do parents feed their children processed food or have them purchase lunch in school?  Simple, because it's easy.  Why don't parents tell their kids no when they ask if they can have cake on a random Tuesday night.  The answer, because they know they'll throw a fit.  Avoiding a easy.  This reminds me of a great stand-up routine by Louis CK.  (Warning, NSFW)

Convenience is coveted here in the United States and living a healthy lifestyle is anything but convenient.  It's also inconvenient to miss parties with your friends while studying in medical school, but the payoff is certainly worth it.  In most instances, delaying instant gratification for long term goal accomplishment tends to be quite satisfying and leads to greater success in the long run.  While most parents are fortunate enough to not have to witness the death of their children, is it really any more comforting to know that you're laying down patterns that will likely cause them to die early of something preventable after 5-10 years of suffering that will likely be painful and dramatically impact their quality of life?  Go in to a hospital or retirement home and take a look at the patients, each one of those patients was someone's child too.

The movie almost made up for it's shortcomings at the end where it more or less told people the power is with them to make the right choices.  However, after spending the whole movie telling people personal responsibility won't cut it and that the government has been screwing everything up, the end essentially promotes personal responsibility and asks for the government to step in.  The mom of Brady, one of the kids interviewed for the movie, summed it up best.

"You have to be willing to put forth the effort, it's a matter of priority."

While Brady made tremendous progress when the family followed a diet low in processed food, once he stopped he gained all of the weight back.  So when his family prioritized health and put forth the effort to make better decisions, they were able to make incredible health improvements.  When they stopped prioritizing and working at it they went back to the way they were.  Imagine that.

Overall, I did not like this movie.  I believe the message to eat mostly whole, unprocessed food is on target.  I believe they dropped the ball on several points.  First, exercise was an afterthought and seen as a way to be a scapegoat for the food industry.  News flash, exercise is important, that is undeniable.  Second, there is universal agreement within the science community that spending time seated in front of a television is one of the worst things for your health.  If you reduce the amount of time you sit in front of a television, you will see a lot fewer advertisements and will be much less prone to eat mindlessly, which is another thing with universal consensus as being unhealthy.  Finally, I personally believe telling people, particularly children, that they can't do something because the cards are stacked against them is inherently demoralizing.  Rather than making them out to be victims of the food industry, how about we raise them to make better decisions and lead by example.  Telling a kid they can't do something but then doing it right in front of them really doesn't reinforce the argument that eating bad food is a poor decision, it just reinforces that it's something they will be able to do when they are adults and they will put it on a pedestal.  Sort of like drinking alcohol, and we all can see how well telling kids they can't drink until they are 21 has worked to prevent underage drinking.