Celebrity-Studded Anti-Obesity Film Is Pure Propaganda

Published June 4, 2014
If you couldn’t stomach watching “Fed Up,” the Katie Couric and Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”) obesity film, here’s the only word you need to know. “Masterpiece.”
Fans of “Fed Up” seem to believe that sugar is the new tobacco and we need warning labels, marketing restrictions and heavy excise taxes to protect not only children, but adults, from making choices the activists think are unwise. But why compare sugar to tobacco, when you can say it is “just like” heroin? That’s what best-selling author and advocate Dr. Mark Hyman says in the film to manipulate emotions and claim that “you are going become an addict.” That’s the type of language that earned Hyman a coveted clip in the movie trailer. It won’t help Americans be healthier.
Katie Couric, Laurie David and the lopsided panel of experts they interviewed want us to think the film is an unbiased and factually balanced portrayal of the causes of obesity in the United States. But “Fed-Up” is less a documentary, more an “argue-mentary”.
Food police activists love the film – not only because they all seem to be in it. But because “Fed-Up” pushes the premise that obesity is caused by industry and government, while “personal responsibility” is just a canard cooked up by “big food” to lull us into reckless Twinkie-eating automatons.
While the film never keeps the viewer guessing about who is to blame for obesity, (not the person with the fork,) advocates complain the film didn’t go far enough because it didn’t propose any actual policy solutions.
But take it from someone who develops and proposes policy solutions professionally; doing so doesn’t sell tickets. The most effective way to advance any agenda is to get the public to buy into to your version of the facts. Big-name celebrities, snarky comments and melodramatic music all help. But not making policy arguments may have been the filmmaker’s smartest move. By doing so, they lulled the public into thinking the film offered an unbiased version of what causes obesity, unspoiled by any agenda.
Whether it’s California’s proposed soda warning, New York City’s ban on large sodas (stuck in litigation), or campaigns to restrict marketing as if food were tobacco (or heroin), advocates need the public to buy into the narrative that no matter what happens, industry will always be part of the problem rather than a potential part of the solution.
But you don’t have to look further than Michele Obama or scientists at the left-leaning Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to question the idea that beating up on industry is an anti-obesity strategy.
Activists have long been critical of the first lady’s conciliatory approach to food makers. Scientists and recent history are on the side of believing that industry can be an ally in the battle of the bulge. “Making the shift from traditional items to lower-calorie ones is not just the right thing for customers, it’s the right thing for these companies’ bottom lines,” said C. Tracy Orleans, PhD, a senior scientist at RWJF.
Consumers and policy-makers shouldn’t be fooled by “Fed Up”. It’s a strident stalking-horse for a Bloombergian agenda. Viewers who believe in personal choice and individual responsibility might choose to pass up the large soda and popcorn when viewing the film, and instead order an extra-large serving of skepticism.
Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffAStier.