Super Size Me! Does the Fast Food Industry Promote Obesity?

This is long. I’m going to break it into several blogs over that I will post over the course of several days.

I will use the synopsis of the documentary film, Super Size Me, posted by IMDb and written by Shimon Haber.

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The fast food industry stirs up the passions of many.

There are the people who love it, defend it, and patronize it frequently. And there are those who vehemently hate it, are vocal about their mistrust of the industry, hate all that it stands for, and work tirelessly to bring it down.

Then there are people like me. We’re impartial. Fast food is not “dining out.” Fast food is something I eat when I’m on the road with my dog in the car. I’m hungry and if it weren’t for fast food under such circumstances I would have to skip a meal and stay hungry until I got home.

I think fast food fulfills a need for me and a lot of people.

I don’t think everybody who eats fast food has the best eating habits, nor do I think that’s any of my business. I’m not the diet police and my values are not imposed on anybody but my family and me. I fully believe fast food can be part of a healthful diet. Like any foods, balance and moderation is essential.

If I were presented with scientific evidence based on research and findings published in peer reviewed medical or scientific journals that presented a clear case of the health threats by eating fast food I could stop eating it without missing it much or at all. I’d probably get into the habit of carrying a meal in a cooler for such times that I’m on the road and unable to take the time to dine in a restaurant.

McDonalds has been named a plaintiff in lawsuits claiming the famous fast food chain knowingly sells food that is unhealthy. Some of the courts decided that to have a claim the plaintiff would have to prove that eating the food every day for every meal is dangerous. This was the basis for a 2004 documentary film called Super Size Me. Morgan Spurlock conducts an unscientific experiment on himself.

He will eat only McDonald’s food for thirty days, three meals a day and will never refuse the offer of the clerk to Super Size his order. By the time the full 30-day period ends, Spurlock will have had to have eaten every single menu item at least once.  The conclusion is predictable, but maybe not factual.

If you are among the many who blame fast food for obese, unhealthy Americans then you would argue it’s both predictable and factual. To me, Spurlock’s experiment sounds more like a witch hunt than valid, scientific research.

If you’re interested in hard, scientific, indisputable facts more than condemning the industry (regardless of your personal preferences or politics) you would have some serious concerns about the experiment and the conclusions.

I have some concerns and some questions. I will remain as objective as possible. My intention is to get to the facts. I’m not looking to support or undermine the work of Morgan Spurlock, or the healthful or unhealthful properties of McDonald’s, as well as fast food in general.Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.34.52 AM

As the film begins, Spurlock, age 32 at the time the movie was filmed in 2003, is physically above average, as attested to by three doctors (a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, and a general practitioner), as well as a nutritionist and a personal trainer. He enlists all three to track his health during the month-long binge. All of the health professionals predict the “McDiet” will have unwelcome effects on his body, but none expects anything too drastic, one citing the human body as being “extremely adaptable.” Prior to the experiment, Spurlock ate a varied diet but always had vegan evening meals to appease his then-girlfriend (now wife), Alexandra, a vegan chef. At the beginning of the experiment, Spurlock, who stands 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall, had a body weight of 185.5 lb (84.1 kg).questions:

My Questions:

  • What was Spurlock’s “varied diet”? That’s just too vague. Was he a meat eater, did he eat mostly a whole food diet, or a low fat diet?
  • Spurlock’s then-girlfriend is a vegan chef. Are her doctors also Spurlock’s docs?
  • If so, did they select these doctors because they embrace the same philosophy about food?
  • Do these doctors treat mostly vegan patients because they think it’s the healthiest way to eat?
  • Do they try to convert patients to a vegan diet?
  • Would they have a personal stake in helping to bring down the fast food nation?
  • Spurlock is making a significant change in his diet which will cause gastrointestinal upsets irrespective to the healthy or unhealthy properties of the food. Wouldn’t that alone increase and/or magnify any undesirable effects?

It’s important to have answers to these questions because it will change the way the doctors interpret the results. If they are against fast food in general they are more likely to conclude any ill health effects Spurlock displays are a direct result of his 30-day experiment. They will not need to look for any other possible cause. It’s an easy diagnosis!

A doctor who takes a broader view of nutrition and healthful eating may explore more fully what caused the health issues Spurlock’s suffered during or after the experiment.

Day 2 brings Spurlock’s first Super Size meal, at the McDonald’s on 34th Street and Tenth Avenue, which happens to be a meal made of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Super Size french fries, and a 42 ounce Coke, which takes 52 minutes to eat. He experiences steadily increasing stomach aches during the process, and promptly throws up in the McDonald’s parking lot.

That SuperSized meal was quite a departure from his typical meal. It took him 54 minutes to consume the entire meal. People normally don’t eat McDonald’s food that slowly – not even a super sized meal lasts almost an hour.

Things to consider:

  • Eating slowly gives your brain time to tell your stomach it’s full.
  • He had to have felt very full from all that food, hence the stomach pain, and yet he forced himself to eat it all.
  • It was, after all a super sized meal and few could eat that much in a single meal without building up to it.
  • Many will never be able to build up to eating that much food comfortably and certainly not if they paced themselves over the span of 54 minutes.
  • Throwing up is a normal response to trying to stuff more food into your body at one time than your body can handle. It doesn’t really tell us anything about the quality of the food; it tells us about the quantity.

Vomiting certainly helps make a meal from McDonalds appear to be a sickening choice, though, doesn’t it?

Comments please!

  • Do you love or hate fast food?
  • Is it your guilty pleasure?
  • Do you think Super Size Me is an objective portrayal of fast food and its effect on your health?
  • Have you seen the film?
  • How did it change your fast food eating habits?


Part 2 tomorrow


Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.