Blogs & Comment

With “Fed Up” the sugar industry has become the new Big Tobacco: Elaine Chin

Hidden in most foods we eat, sugar is actually more insidious than most addictive substances

Reviews of the movie Fed Up (showing in select theatres right now) generally describe it as a film about the obesity epidemic. To me, it seems sugar is still getting a pass. This isn’t just about obesity—it’s about life and death! Too much of the wrong types of sugars will kill. That’s what people should take away from Fed Up.

Sugar is why we are getting fat and why we’re dying before our time. And that’s why I recommend everyone watch Fed Up—the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.

I was fortunate to be one of the first in Canada to see Fed Up at a private screening held by Heather Reisman of Indigo who was one of the executive producers of the movie. I immediately booked dozens of seats for its official Canadian premiere at Hot Docs for my friends. The universal response was what Heather predicted: “We will eat differently.”

Sugar, obesity and the scary fact that this generation of children is expected to be the first to die before their parents is not a new story. It’s one I’ve been telling for years. My hope is that when people see this story on film, my warnings about sugar will start to sink in.

Think “sugar kills” is an overstatement? Would you agree that heroin can kill? Consider this: sugar is as addictive as heroin, and equally as dangerous.

“Your brain lights up to sugar just as it does with cocaine and heroin, meaning you are going to become an addict,” says University of California pediatrics professor Dr. Robert Lustig in Fed Up.

And sugar is even more insidious, since addicts choose to start shooting heroin (see the Homer Simpson short cameo in Fed Up shooting up liquefied donuts), while sugar is hidden in many foods we eat. So we can get hooked, unknowingly. Researchers quoted in the film say that, of 600,000 food items in the US, a staggering 80% have added sugar.

The film also points out how lousy we can be made to feel about being overweight. I’ll let you in on a secret—you don’t have to shoulder all the blame for extra pounds. Fed Up maintains the real danger behind the epidemic is sugar.

When we say epidemic, what does that mean?

  • By 2040, up to 70% of 40-year-old Canadians will be either overweight or obese.
  • Today, nearly 9 million Canadians—1 in 4—either has diabetes or pre-diabetes. More than 20 people are diagnosed with the disease every hour of every day. 700,000 are undiagnosed.
  • 59% of adult Canadians are either overweight or obese.
  • By 2050, one third of all Americans will have diabetes.

Do you really know how much sugar you are consuming?

One 20-ounce bottle of regular soda or energy drink contains 275 calories and 68 to 75 grams of sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar has approximately 4-5 grams of sugar). Yes doing that math you are ingesting 12 to 15 teaspoons of sugar—twice the daily amount recommended for an adolescent boy. (If you look at your food labels, you will find no percentage recommended sugar intake, whereas it is noted for salt. Odd, isn’t it?)

How can you tell if a product has added sugar in it? Read all the ingredients on the Nutritional Facts label. And if it doesn’t say sugar on it, make sure you check for its other 56 names. Surprised? Click here for a list of those other names. Or check out this Instagram infographic provided by FedUp.

Watch Fed Up, playing in theatres in major Canadian cities now (find a theatre here), and you may never eat the same way again. I sincerely hope you don’t. If you don’t have a chance to watch the movie, start by reading Kate Lunau’s current cover story in Maclean’s: Death By Sugar.

Elaine Chin, MD, MBA
Founder, Executive Health Centre