I have been writing about, lecturing on, and using food as medicine for a long time, and I’ve seen the health benefits in thousands of my patients. But it wasn’t until I participated in the movie Fed Up that I took a step back and realized just how bad the epidemic of industrialized food has gotten in our country. The film exposes how the sugar industry drives our obesity epidemic, and I was asked to go to South Carolina to talk to a low-income family about their health. I looked at this family’s health crisis, tried to understand the root causes, and worked to help them pull out of their scary downward spiral.

Three of the five were morbidly obese, two had pre-diabetes, and the father had type 2 diabetes and kidney failure and was on dialysis. The family survived on disability and food stamps (or SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). They were under financial stress and felt hopeless. This vicious cycle of poverty and poor health affects more than 150 million Americans (including tens of millions of children) who are in some way struggling with the physical, social, and financial burden of obesity, chronic disease, and their complications. And so it was with this family.

The mother, father, and sixteen-year-old son were all morbidly obese. The teenager had 47 percent overall body fat, and his belly was 58 percent fat. To provide some perspective, the normal range for total body fat for a man is 10 to 20 percent. He said he was worried he would soon be 100 percent body fat. His insulin levels were sky-high, which drove a relentless cycle of sugar cravings and food addiction, leading to the storage of more and more belly fat.

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Obese at sixteen, he had a life expectancy thirteen years shorter than those of kids with healthy body fat, and he was twice as likely to die by the age of fifty-five as were his healthier friends. His father, at age forty-two, had renal failure from complications of obesity. The whole family was at risk

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