Recently, we screened the 2014 documentary Fed Up for JSI staff. The film was produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David to explain why people struggling with obesity, diabetes, and other serious health conditions can’t simply “exercise and eat right” to overcome their conditions. This film reinforces messages that we believe are critical to public health; that high-sugar diets, the built environment, and the food industry are key players in the obesity epidemic.
Fed Up may provoke skepticism from those who may have attributed obesity to individual choice or a “lack of willpower.” In particular, the movie emphasizes that sugar is our problem, not fat, and that obesity and other metabolic diseases can be largely attributed to consumption of processed foods with high sugar content.
A few sugar-related facts mentioned in the film include:
- One soda a day increases a child’s chance of obesity by 60%.
- Individuals who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 26% higher risk for developing type II diabetes.
- In 2012, Americans consumed an average of 765 grams of sugar every five days, or 130 pounds each year.
Policies and the environment must be altered in order to adequately address the obesity crisis. Policies related to the built environment can either create or inhibit opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity. Therefore, individuals’ choices and behaviors are often largely controlled by the environment that surrounds them. For example, some communities are unfairly targeted by unhealthy food advertising, have zoning regulations which contribute to the proliferation of fast food restaurants, and/or have few or no grocery stores.
JSI’s work to create healthy communities across the United States offers insight into the types of policies and comprehensive strategies which should be implemented to address these issues. Through MetroWest Moves, a Mass in Motion initiative, JSI works with town planners, community development staff, board of health directors, schools, and other community organizations to improve the built environment in four Massachusetts municipalities.
Our strategies include:
- developing ‘Complete Streets’ policies to ensure that future development is conducive to walking and biking;
- creating a healthy dining initiative with the goal of making healthy items readily available to the rising number of restaurant patrons;
- and implementing school-based policies, such as mandating recess before lunch to increase physical activity.
In Missouri, JSI is working with the Missouri Foundation for Health to evaluate their Healthy Schools Healthy Communities Initiative, a statewide effort to make changes in the community and school. As part of this comprehensive evaluation, JSI is looking at the process of these changes and the impact they are having on the prevalence of obesity, misconduct, academic performance, and attendance. In California, JSI has been funded by The Health Trust for the Food Access Assessment for Vulnerable Populations in San Jose. The assessment will identify food access resources and needs for three target populations: homeless individuals, seniors, and families with children under 5. The findings will inform the development of the City’s Food Access Plan.
FED UP brings more attention to what many of us in public health have been working towards in the area of obesity, population health and built environments. Sugar and the food industry are key contributors to obesity and diabetes. Implementing policies to regulate the food industry and modify the built environment offer tangible public health solutions for addressing the obesity epidemic. Fed Up helps bring attention to the fact that unhealthy behaviors are not the sole responsibility of an individual but the responsibility of society as a whole – schools, communities, industry, government, and individuals.
- Lasater G, Piernas C, Popkin BM. Beverage patterns and trends among school-aged children in the US, 1989-2008. Nutr J. 2011;10:103. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3196913/pdf/1475-2891-10-103.pdf