Super Size Me

on May 07, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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The statistics are staggering. America is the fattest nation on earth: 37 percent of American children and adolescents are packing too many pounds, and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. At the center of the epidemic is the fast-food industry: One in four Americans visits a fast-food restaurant every day. And, with 30,000 joints in 100 countries on six continents and 45 percent of the market, McDonald's is the biggest culprit of them all.

Morgan Spurlock decided to do something about it. For 30 days he ate at McDonald's. There were rules: He couldn't eat or drink anything that wasn't on the McDonald's menu, including water; he consumed three square meals a day; he had to order everything on the menu at least once; and he had to supersize his meal if asked.

Spurlock undertook his experiment in a very methodical way that ultimately makes his case irrefutable. He was under the constant scrutiny of three doctors specializing in internal medicine, gastroenterology and hepatology, and cardiology, as well as a nutritionist and an exercise physiologist. They ran him through a battery of tests that not only measured his weight gain but the fluctuation in his cholesterol levels and body fat percentage as well as a myriad other health gauges.

The results were shocking even to the experts. In above-average health at the beginning of the 30 days, by the end of the trial, Spurlock had gained 24.5 pounds, his cholesterol shot up 65 percent, and his body fat ballooned from 11 to 18 percent. Worse, in the investigation's most puzzling effect, he pickled his liver as an alcoholic might. It took him five months to lose 20 pounds and six weeks to bring his other levels back to normal. This is in addition to the chest pressure, depression, sugar addiction, headaches, labored breathing, hot flashes, heart palpitations and fear for his life that he experienced while on the self-imposed program.

As he binged, Spurlock traveled more than 25,000 miles around the country talking to Surgeon Generals, gym teachers, cooks, kids, lawmakers and legislators on the factors contributing to the epidemic. School lunch programs increasingly resemble fast-food eateries, health and physical education classes are in decline, and the Leave No Child Behind mandate slashes recess time for test preparation. McDonald's spends $1.4 billion on advertising each year, luring in kids at a young age with birthday parties, Happy Meals, toys, clowns and playgrounds. Americans spend $30 billion on diet and weight loss products and engage in extreme gastric bypass surgeries to bring their weight under control. McDonald's didn't respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Like fellow provocateur Michael Moore, Spurlock's success--in addition to the indisputable facts he presents--lies in his infectious personality and sense of humor. It doesn't hurt that he's painfully honest, either: The viewer isn't spared from witnessing Spurlock's rectal exam, and his vegan-chef girlfriend speaks freely, if kindly, about the declining quality of their sex life.

And his approach is getting results. Spurlock suggests as a start to do away with the supersize and offer choices other than French fries. This reviewer, for one, hasn't been back to the Golden Arches since seeing the film, but what's more interesting is that McDonald's has subsequently announced that it has begun phasing out its supersize fries and drinks as well as incorporating more fruit, vegetable and yogurt options into its menu. The move, of course, according to the burger giant, has "nothing to do with that [film] whatsoever." Directed and produced by Morgan Spurlock. A Samuel Goldwyn release. Documentary. Rated PG-13 for language, sex and drug references, and a graphic medical procedure. Running time: 98 min

Tags: Directed, produced by Morgan Spurlock, Samuel Goldwyn, Documentary
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