Super Size Me Review
By Shawn McKenzie 01/26/2005
I am a big guy, but I wouldn’t consider myself a physically huge one, though many people are. I don’t want to run down all of the statistics (that’s what the movie is for), but this movie is an eye-opener. What movie am I talking about here? It is the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me, a revealing experiment and commentary on the excess of America’s weight problem.
Morgan Spurlock, the director and “star” of this film, decided to make a movie documenting an odd experiment he did on himself. After hearing that two overweight teenage girls wanted to sue the McDonalds Corporation for making them fat because they ate the restaurant’s food, Spurlock decided to test the theory that, if a person ate nothing but fast food straight for a month, that it would do damage to your body. His experiment was that he would eat only McDonalds’ meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (just the three square meals a day.)
He gave himself three rules: he could only eat what was available over the counter, including water; no super-sizing unless it was offered; and he had to eat every item on the menu at least once. Moreover, he consumed some 5,000 calories a day, while deliberately avoiding physical activity, in order to show what a normal everyday person does while eating fast food.
The day before he started his experiment, he got checked out by a team of doctors and nutritionists to document his current state of health. He had cardiologist Dr. Stephen Siegel, gastroenterologist Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, and general practitioner Dr. Daryl Isaacs run several tests on him to make sure that his experiment would prove that he was in the peak of his health (Spurlock is 6’2” and was 185 pounds at the beginning of the experiment.) He also consulted a dietician named Bridget Bennett from a New York wellness center (called “Haelth,” but with the a and the e mashed together) to track the progress of his experiment. That night, he has his vegan chef girlfriend Alexandra “Alex” Jamieson prepare him his last meal.
The next day, he conducts his experiment. He thinks that it will be a hoot, because he thinks that he is going to do what he calls an eight-year-old’s dream, but soon finds out that it is a nightmare. After two days, he is already literally getting sick of Mickie D’s (you might not want to watch as he throws up…it’s pretty gross.)
Meanwhile, he goes on a cross-country trip to find out more about the nation’s eating habits. He interviews John F. Banzhaf III, a law professor from George Washington University, who is spearheading the attacks against the fast food industry (he also played a part against the tobacco industry…and won, which is why the attorney for those two overweight girls, Samuel Hirsch, has tried it now. We find out later in the film that he lost the case.) His theory is that the nation’s obesity problem is caused by fast food, even though people have been eating bad food for centuries (I didn’t understand his argument.) I guess what he is saying is that the industry tries so hard to sell their products to consumers, starting with the kids, that they are the ones responsible for everyone being overweight.
By day three, Spurlock feels freaky, but he has gotten over the “three day hump” (in other words…he starts to get used to the food.) He interviews Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General, who became the first person to declare obesity as a national epidemic. He says that we have seen a doubling of overweight adults in the last 20-25 years. This has led to hypertension, coronary heart disease, adult onset diabetes, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, endometrial, breast, prostate and colon cancers, dyslipidemia, steatohepatitis, insulin resistance, breathlessness, asthma, hyperuricaemia, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, impaired fertility, and lower back pain.
He then interviews John Robbins, son of the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream shops who is now a health advocate. Robbins says that his uncle Baskin died of a heart attack at age 51 and that his dad has adult onset diabetes.
After five days, Spurlock has his first weigh-in, and he has gained 10 pounds (geez…that shocked me too…though I could probably breathe bad food and gain a pound.) On day 7 and 8, he starts to get some chest pressure.
Next, he interviews Don Gorske, a guy who is a Big Mac enthusiast and eats two or three a day (I didn’t understand the point of this interview…the guy was goofy-looking, but not fat at all, and clearly loves the sandwiches.)
Spurlock has a group of kids identify some pictures of George Washington, Jesus (who one boy incorrectly identified as George W. Bush), Wendy from Wendys, and Ronald McDonald. Some of the kids knew some of the people in the pictures, but all of them knew about Ronald. He also went to a few McDonalds restaurants and noticed that it was very hard to find any nutritional information for customers at them.
At his second weigh-in, he was up by 17 pounds. He goes to a school called Madison Junior High School in Naperville, IL, where he discovers how badly the kids get nutrition from the food served to them, because the food industry tries hard to get their food in the schools (the “cook” just heats and serves. Her most useful kitchen tool is the box cutter, which she uses to open the food that she serves the kids.) At another middle school though, Park Middle School in Beckley, WV (W. Virginia is his home state, the third fattest state in the nation), Spurlock discovers that they actually serve kids nutritional meals…and they are a public school.
He then goes to Houston, which is the fattest town in the nation, where it is one of the 15 fattest towns in the nation (Houston being one of five of the fattest towns in Texas, all in the top 15.) He discovers that Illinois is the only state in the nation who requires a physical education program in schools (the state is also one of the fattest though.)
Around day 17, Alex complains that her sex life with Spurlock has been affected because he is tired and can’t perform sometimes. At day 18, he starts getting constant headaches.
Spurlock interviews a man from Houston named Bruce Howlett, who is going through gastric-bypass surgery. His doctors have perfected a procedure that will get you home the next day. By this time, on day 21, Spurlock begins to have chest pains.
He interviews a lobbyist working for GMA, a lobby firm working for the food industry. They are dedicated to making sure that no legislation ever passes that would hurt the industry. Unfortunately, he slips up by admitting that they are part of the problem as well as the solution.
Finally, he tries to call Lisa Howard, the director of corporate communications and social responsibility at McDonalds , to set up an interview with Jim Cantalupo, the CEO of the restaurants. After 13 or more calls, he gives up trying (I wonder he didn’t try to call earlier in the month?)
The day after day 30, Spurlock goes in for his final weigh-in. He has gained 24.5 pounds and elevated all sorts of bad things in his body, like his cholesterol and his high blood pressure. He looks like he has a little paunch, but nothing huge (it would have gotten even worse if he went on with the experiment longer.) His body fat percentage went from 11% to 18%, still below the average body fat percentage of 22% for men and 30% for women, but not good. Alex immediately detoxes him from McDonalds so he can get back to his normal self.
This is my opinion of this experiment though. While Spurlock freely admits that it had been in the extreme, I do know that people eat fast food at least once a week, sometimes several times a week (I’ve noticed that it usually happens in the morning, because it is hard to catch breakfast on your way to work.) The movie itself is obviously preachy, but unlike Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, it tries to show both sides (with his side a little higher, but at least there is another side.) In the end, I don’t believe that he advocates suing corporations for their state of health; he does hope to educate the public about the effects that fast food has on you though.
By the way…the DVD has one extra that I have to tell you about which blew me away. Spurlock did another experiment, but not on his body. He put seven food items in seven clear jars to show what would happen to those items over time. He put four different McDonalds sandwiches in the first four jars, McDonalds’ fries in the fifth jar, a real hamburger with real meat from a real restaurant in the sixth jar, and some real fries from that same restaurant in the seventh jar. All of the items started getting really disgusting and smelling bad after a few days, except for the McDonalds’ fries, which looked the same. After five weeks, after his interns had finally thrown the items away, they all looked like they could have been little monsters that could have eaten you, except for the McDonalds’ fries again, which hadn’t changed a bit. I’ve never really a big fan of the food at McDonalds, but I at least I liked the fries. I had to take another look at them though.
McDonalds announced in 2004 that they were no longer going to carry the Super Size line anymore. They claim that this was a corporate decision and it had nothing to do with Super Size Me (yeah right. As Dana Carvey’s Church Lady might say, “How conveeeeenient!”) If the movie does win the Oscar, I hope that Spurlock doesn’t get as self-important and pompous as Moore, because I used to think that Moore was a guy who could actually inform the public in a positive way. As an overweight moviegoer, I could see this movie in two ways: learning something from this movie, or be offended that they were preaching to me. I hope that most people, fat or thin, will learn something, because while I don’t agree with everything in the movie, Spurlock had the real facts to back up his arguments, and I hope that it has opened their eyes to the nation’s health problems.
P.S.-being fat myself, I can be a hypocrite, but I am actually working on losing weight. Ever since my stroke (see why I had my stroke on the FAQ page of this site), I have lost 30 pounds, and I’m looking to get to my goal weight (I am currently 30 years old, 6 feet tall, and 225 pounds; I want to get down to 185 pounds.) This hasn’t happened much before, because I never cared about losing weight before my stroke. Now I do, and I hope I can encourage all of you to do as well. I will never advocate lawsuits or boycotts against the food industry, but I would hope that movies like this would educate you to take action for yourself.
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