'Fed Up' documentary challenges students to fight obesity

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21 2014 6:20 p.m. MST

Students from Ecker Hill Middle School participate in a Q-and-A session for the documentary film "Fed Up," in Park City, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. The film deals with America's eating habits.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Maggie Valentine is 12 years old and weighs 212 pounds.

"My doctor has said I'm a statistic," she says in the Sundance documentary "Fed Up." "I don't really know what it means. I think it has something to do with my weight."

In the film, Maggie talks about the frustrations of trying to stay healthy through diet and exercise. She is one of many overweight teenagers profiled in "Fed Up," which examines the obesity epidemic in the United States.

The film points a critical finger at lawmakers, schools and the food industry for cultivating a culture of unhealthy eating habits and suggests that sugary foods — and particularly soda — are the cigarettes of the 21st century.

"Just like cigarettes literally cause lung cancer, certain foods literally make you fat," author Gary Taubes says in the film. "If you want to cure obesity, you have to demonize some food industries."

On Tuesday, a full-house crowd of seventh-graders — roughly the same age as Maggie — from Ecker Hill Middle School in Park City visited the Redstone Theater for a special screening of the film.

"Fed Up" was one of 12 of this year's festival films selected for the High School Screening Program, which invites student groups from the Wasatch Front to attend a Sundance screening free of charge.

Last year, roughly 4,800 students from 68 Utah schools participated in the screening program, said Kara Cody, Sundance's manager of Utah community and student programs. Cody said the goal of the program is to engage students in stories from around the globe and introduce them to the art of independent film.

"We program films that are, of course, content-appropriate for a student audience," she said. "We also try to use films that are of some interest to students as well."

"Fed Up" drew applause from the Ecker Hill students Tuesday. When asked by "Fed Up" editor Brian Lazarte who would "think twice" about drinking soda every day, about half of the students raised their hands.

Several students also posed questions of their own to Lazarte and Eve Marson, one of the film's producers, during a discussion that followed the screening.

Ecker Hill student Valentin Flores asked what is a good and quick way to check if the food you buy is healthy.

Lazarte reiterated that a person should check a food's sugar content, which is often added to make up for lost taste in low-fat and low-calorie alternatives. He also emphasized the need to eat "real" foods and fresh produce as opposed to processed goods.

"Look at the ingredients on the back," Lazarte said. "If there’s a bunch of names that you cannot pronounce, chances are that’s not real food. Actually, I can guarantee that’s not real food."

Maya Christensen, another Ecker Hill student, said the movie made her reconsider her attitude toward junk food and sugar.

"I was surprised how sugar can be that addictive and how it's in, like, every food you eat," she said. "It definitely changes the way I think about stuff and how I'll look at food and how I'll decide what to eat."

The bulk of "Fed Up" examines America's dietary habits, and many of the interviews in the film suggest that anti-obesity efforts have unproductively focused on exercise and fitness while largely giving a pass to the food industry.

Data are shown on the increased number of fitness club memberships over the past few decades, a trend that largely mirrors the growth of America's waistlines.

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