Katie Couric’s childhood breakfast table usually included juice served in small glasses.
“I remember them being two or three inches high, and you had a little orange juice in the morning,” Ms. Couric recalled in an interview with the Gazette this week. “My mom didn’t want us to eat between meals, she wouldn’t buy sugared cereals. She was always relatively health conscious.”
But over the course of her life, Ms. Couric has seen a shift from the small juice glasses to “12 ounces in a huge glass.”
“I’ve seen a switch from having three good meals a day and maybe a snack to having food everywhere,” she said. “Food is so ubiquitous, people don’t think twice about eating 24/7 and there’s no reason kids need to. I think we have to get out of the mindset and realize we’re only adding to the problem.”
This cultural shift is the subject of a new documentary produced and narrated by Ms. Couric, Fed Up, which explores the childhood obesity epidemic in America. On Friday, July 25, Ms. Couric will present the film at the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school alongside director Stephanie Soechtig and producer Laurie David. Ms. David, who also produced An Inconvenient Truth, lives in Chilmark.
The documentary follows the story of several children as they try to change their lifestyles and the challenges, both systematical and cultural, they face. The film includes interviews with Bill Clinton, food activist Michael Pollan, writer Mark Bittman, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and leading pediatricians on the topic.
Ms. Couric has told many stories in her 35-year career as a television journalist, stories that evolved and stories that took new paths, but the issue of obesity has been unwavering.
“I was anchoring the CBS Evening News and I was constantly covering stories about obesity,” she said. “It seems as though I’ve been doing it my entire career. I noticed a certain redundancy in the stories and nothing seems to change. On the contrary, things seemed to be getting worse.
“I was alarmed and dismayed by the statistics,” she added. “I thought, we keep hearing them, but we’re not changing our behavior. What are we doing wrong, why is this happening? I wanted to peel the layers of the onion.”
She decided to ask Ms. Soechtig, who had previously done a documentary on plastic bottle use, if she’d be interested in working on a film about childhood obesity.
Ms. Soechtig set to work researching and “unraveled the root of the obesity epidemic,” Ms. Couric said. “A collusion between government, the food industry, lobbyists and marketers. They have all worked together to make us increasingly more obese.”
While Ms. Couric has covered the issue for years, the film exposed even more areas of concern, she said.
“Oh my gosh, there was so much in it that I didn’t know about,” she said. Marketing schemes that “assaulted” kids, and manipulation of ingredients, for instance, she said.
“It was things I was conscious of, but when it’s put in front of you in black and white terms and really quantified, I think it’s still very shocking,” she said. “No one had ever connected the dots for me in such an effective way.”
Now Ms. Couric is reading labels a little more carefully.
“I now know four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. Do I really want eight teaspoons of sugar in this one bottle of juice or fancy water? No.”
Ms. Couric said more education is needed in order to reverse the epidemic.
“Knowledge is power,” she said. “I think that once people become more aware of what they’re consuming, that is part of the solution.”
Healthier food in school cafeterias, starting healthy eating at a younger age and providing tools to both parents and kids are important to an accessible solution as well, she added.
“Cooking real food, things that have an ingredient, is a great way of doing it,” she said.
Eating healthy is an option for all, Ms. Couric said, and it is “a complete misnomer this is only for wealthy people.”
“That assumption is in itself classist, it’s suggesting that low income people shouldn’t be educated, that there’s no hope,” Ms. Couric said. “That’s simply not true. I do think for everybody, no matter what socioeconomic situation, stressed and busy, this has to be made a priority, too.
“Yes, perhaps healthier produce is more accessible in some areas,” she continued. “There are ways around it and everybody deserves to know the facts so that they can make educated choices no matter where they live or how much they make. There are ways to do it.”
The difference in price points vary, too, she said. A fast food meal, for example, can end up costing more than homemade chicken and vegetables.
“I hate that familiar refrain, in a way it’s a lost cause for people who don’t have as much disposable income,” Ms. Couric said. “It’s just not true.”
Ms. Couric hopes Fed Up will “get people fired up and anxious to use their new found knowledge.”
“When I was little, my brother and I used to throw my mom’s cigarettes down the toilet because we didn’t want her to smoke,” Ms. Couric said. “I’m also hoping that kids themselves start a movement. When they hear the statistic that this is the first generation of kids leading shorter lifespans than their parents, they’re going to want to do something about that. Convince their parents and do it as a family so they can reverse the trend.”
Change is coming on a national level with the likes of Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy living, on a local level in the schools and at kitchen tables around the country, Ms. Couric said.
“We are at a perfect storm and almost a tipping point, literally and figuratively, to take some serious actions.”
Fed Up begins at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 25, at the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school. General admission tickets are $25 to $50 and $100 for VIP tickets, which includes a reception following the film. For tickets visit tmvff.org.