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Sugar-laden doc delivers familiar, bitter truth

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Fed up spotlights the U.S. food industry's efforts to direct attention away from the nation's obesity crisis.

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Fed up spotlights the U.S. food industry's efforts to direct attention away from the nation's obesity crisis.

Stop me if you've heard this one, but our kids are getting fat. Really fat.

The latest documentary on the nutrition crisis, Fed Up often feels like a dish we've been served before. Still, it is effective at zeroing in on Dietary Enemy No. 1 -- sugar -- and the food industry's unrelenting work to redirect the nation's efforts away from the problem.

The movie might be even more effective if it could manage to stay focused. Like a child with a sugar buzz, the movie -- powered by executive producer Katie Couric, who also narrates -- Fed Up has trouble staying on point.

But when it does, it's pretty solid.

The movie asserts that the government-directed focus on exercise and calorie-counting actually fuelled the sharp rise in obesity among children in the United States.

The reason? The food industry made a push to alter dietary guidelines to shift the blame away from sugar.

While many of the loudest voices are conservative bêtes noires (Bill Clinton, George McGovern), the movie finds room for criticism on both sides of the aisle for regulators' chronic caving in to the food industry.

After the World Health Organization set guidelines saying sugar should account for no more than 10 per cent of a healthy diet, the movie says, former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson flew to Geneva to tell the UN agency that if it didn't pull the recommendation, the United States would pull its $450 million in funding.

A few years later, first lady Michelle Obama launched her much-heralded campaign to get America's children to eat healthier and live more active lives. But after a food-industry backlash, the movie notes, the first lady's public focus shifted chiefly to exercise.

(As if to underscore the movie's point about the food industry's strategy, the Grocery Manufacturers Association launched a pre-emptive publicity barrage, including a new website, fedupfacts.com.)

Intercut with this chronicle of systemic failure are the stories of four teens struggling with obesity. Their stories are poignant and painful -- and deliver a glimpse of the human element missing from the rest of Fed Up.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2014 D5

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