Obese and overweight individuals are often criticized for laziness or a lack of willpower to exercise, Taubes argues, and encouraged to maintain an "energy balance" that focuses on calorie intake and calorie output. But that focus on energy balance, he says, is "nonsense."
The problem, Taubes explains, is that a calorie burned while jogging is equal to a calorie burned while sleeping. But a calorie ingested from a food high in fiber and other beneficial substances is absorbed by the body in different ways from the calories in processed food and sugary sodas.
The film also looks at how sugar consumption has increased in the past 30 years, partly due to a growing market of diet and low-calorie foods that boast a lower caloric content while maintaining — or even increasing — the amount of sugar or sugar-like substances.
"Sugar is poison," Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, is quoted as saying in the film.
Efforts to regulate the food industry are frequently met with pushback from lobbying groups and criticisms of nanny state governance, the film argues. But in one scene, pediatrician Harvey Kapp suggests that if the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other dietary illnesses were the result of meddling from a foreign nation, lawmakers would leap to counter the attack.
"We’d probably go to war," Kapp says. "We would defend our families, so why do we accept this from our country?"
Following up on the comparison to cigarettes, the film argues that the solutions lie in the lessons learned from the government's protracted battle with Big Tobacco. "Fed Up" rhetorically asks what effect there could be if warning labels were required on soda bottles, if fast food were banned from schools, and if media advertising were required to balance a commercial for candy bars with a plug for brocoli.
"We've got to change the diet of America," former President Bill Clinton says in the film. "We've got to change the way we produce and consume food."
Kim Yutani, a programmer for Sundance, described the film as a "must-include" and said there was essentially a unanimous agreement on its selection. She said the film's power is its potential to change a viewer's behavior and added that it prompted her to alter her eating habits.
"It was one of the most powerful documentaries we saw all season," Yutani said. "I think anybody who watches it will have a hard time not being affected by it."
Cody said "Fed Up" was a natural fit for the student screening program, which also includes documentaries on the Vietnam War and Internet addiction, as well as a narrative feature from Spain.
"It's just nice to show students there are options out there other than the big Hollywood blockbuster, that there are different ways of telling stories," she said.
Fielding a question on why the government has been slow to react to the obesity crisis, Lazarte told the Ecker Hill students that their voice as the youths of the United States has even more power than the experts quoted in the film.
"If you guys start speaking up and tell your schools, your teachers, your principal that ‘we don’t want it,’ that’s the first step," he said. "Now that you’re armed with the information you have from the film, there’s so much more you can do with that."
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