Super Size Me – Documentary

June 23, 2010

Since I recently finished reading and reviewing Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, I thought I would follow that up by watching Super Size Me, by Morgan Spurlock, as they run in the same vein. Let me start by saying that if reading that book, and now watching this documentary don’t get me to stop eating fast food, I don’t know what will. Now granted, I hardly ever do, but I’m still known to succumb to a drive-thru every now and again, since I spend a lot of time on the road on the weekends. But now I know too much. It has forever changed how I view fast food restaurants. Not that my view of them was all that positive in the first place.

This documentary was created at a time when several law suits had been brought against McDonald’s, claiming they were knowingly selling food that is unhealthy and harmful. Some of the court decisions stated that the plaintiffs would have a claim, if they could prove that eating the food for every meal, every day, is dangerous. So this is exactly what Spurlock set out to do. He conducted an experiment, in which he could only eat McDonald’s food, for every meal, for 30 days. In that time he had to consume everything on the menu, at least once. He was not allowed to eat anything that did not come from a McDonald’s. Every time he was asked if he wanted to super size his meal, he had to say yes. He had to have at least three meals a day, and had to finish each meal completely.

In order to calculate the effects of this diet on his body, he enlisted three doctors – a general practitioner, a gastroenterologist, and a cardiologist. Each said they knew the “McDiet” was not going to be very good for Morgan, but did not think it would be that damaging either, since it was only for 30 days, and the body is very adaptable. Boy were they wrong. Spurlock gained almost 10 pounds in the first 5 days of the experiment. The first time he had to finish every bit (including the gigantic drink) of a super-sized meal, he vomited, as he was not accustomed to consuming that much in one sitting. It was not long before he started to feel depressed, exhausted, and was getting headaches – all of which were both caused, and then pacified, by the fast food. This is the point where his general practitioner said his body had become addicted. 

Three weeks into the experiment, fat had accumulated in Spurlock’s liver, and he was having heart palpitations. His doctor said he was essentially “pickling his liver”, and advised him to stop the program immediately. Despite the warnings of his team of doctors, Spurlock kept on. By the end of the 30 day experiment, Spurlock gained 24.5 pounds – a 13% body mass increase, his cholesterol spiked 65 points, fat was accumulating in his liver, he was having heart palpitations, and he suffered from depression, exhaustion, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction. The effects of the “McDiet” were more detrimental than even his doctors had anticipated.

Here are some additional factoids that struck me from this documentary:

  • America is the fattest nation. (I already knew this, but still depressing to hear.)
  • Over 100 million Americans are overweight or obese.
  • 60% of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
  • Obesity is 2nd only to smoking as a major preventable death in America.
  • Americans eat out about 40% of their meals.
  • Each day, 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has fast food.
  • McDonald’s feeds over 46 million people worldwide, everyday.
  • In the last 25 years, the # of obese Americans has doubled – in both adults & kids.
  • If the current trend continues, 1 of every 3 children born in 2000 will develop diabetes.
  • If diabetes begins before age 15, it takes 17-27 years off of your lifespan.
  • Half of diabetic children have signs of scarring in their liver.
  • The direct medical cost associated with diabetes doubled in just 5 years, between 1997 – 2002. It went from $44 billion to $92 billion. (*Fast Food Nation also talks about how the real cost of fast food is not reflected in the cheap pricing.)
  • McNuggets are the most popular menu item for children. McNuggets are hormone loaded chicken breasts that have been ground up into mash, combined with stabilizers & preservatives, pressed into shapes, breaded, deep-fried, freeze-dried, and shipped to McDonald’s, where they are then re-heated and served, mostly to kids.
  • The small size soda in a fast food restaurant in the U.S., is the big size in France.
  • At Burger King, a 12 oz soda used to be a small. Now it’s the kiddie size.
  • Auto makers in the U.S. have introduced bigger cup holders to accommodate the Double Big Gulp, which is a half gallon of soda.
  • School districts have farmed out the feeding of our kids to the lowest bidder.
  • Only 1 state in the U.S. requires mandatory P.E. for grades K-12.
  • Each year Americans spend over $30 billion on diet plans. 2.5 times more than on actual fitness.

Interestingly, six weeks after the premiere of Super Size Me, McDonald’s discontinued the super size option of their meals. They also set out to make the nutritional information of their food more available. I wonder if this was to protect them from law suits that would use the documentary as evidence that they are indeed, knowingly serving unhealthy food. This would allow them the defense that now the information is available for consumers to make informed choices. McDonald’s claimed these changes had nothing to do with the film. I guess the timing was just a coincidence.

*Now just as with Fast Food Nation, I saw this film years after it was released. This documentary is from 2004, so some of the numbers regarding obesity and diabetes in the U.S. have changed. Although again, I doubt for the better.

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