Super Size Me

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Super Size Me
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Produced by Morgan Spurlock
Written by Morgan Spurlock
Starring Morgan Spurlock
Music by Doug Ray
Steve Horowitz
Michael Parrish
Cinematography Scott Ambrozy
Editing by Julie "Bob" Lombardi
Distributed by Showtime Networks, Inc.
Release date(s) May 7, 2004
Running time 100 minutes
Language English

Super Size Me is a 2004 documentary film written, produced, directed by, and starring Morgan Spurlock, an American independent filmmaker. Spurlock's film follows a 30-day time period (February to beginning of March 2003) during which he limits himself to only eat McDonald's food. The film documents this lifestyle's drastic effects on Spurlock's physical and psychological well-being, and explores the fast food industry's corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit. During the filming, Spurlock dined at McDonald's restaurants three times per day, sampling every item on the chain's menu at least once. He also "super-sized" his meal every time he was asked. Spurlock consumed an average of 20.92 megajoules or 5,000 cal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment. As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24½ lbs. (1¾ stone, 11.1 kg), a 13% body mass increase, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and liver damage. It took Spurlock fourteen months to lose the weight he gained.

The stated driving factor for Spurlock's investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout U.S. society, which the Surgeon General has declared "epidemic," and the corresponding lawsuit brought against McDonald's on behalf of two overweight girls, who, it was alleged, became obese as a result of eating McDonald's food. Spurlock points out that although the lawsuit against McDonald's failed (and subsequently many state legislatures have legislated against product liability actions against producers and distributors of "fast food"), much of the same criticism leveled against the tobacco companies applies to fast food franchises (except that these companies never lied about their product), although it could be argued that fast food, though physiologically addictive,[1][2] is not as addictive as nicotine.

The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Feature. [3]

On February 2005, Super Size Me Educationally Enhanced DVD edition was released. It is an edited version of the film designed to be integrated into a high school health curriculum.

MSNBC has also broadcast an hour long version of the film, in addition to the regular version.


[edit] Film premise

[edit] Experiment

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 expect 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).

Spurlock starts the month with breakfast near his home in Manhattan, where there are an average of four McDonald's (and 66,950 residents, and twice as many commuters) per square mile (2.6 km²). He also elects to ride in taxis more often, since he aims to keep the distances he walks in line with the 5,000 steps (approximately two miles) walked per day by the average American. Spurlock has several stipulations which govern his eating habits:

  • He must fully consume three McDonald's meals per day.
  • He must sample every item on the McDonald's menu at least once over the course of the 30 days (this he managed in nine days).
  • He must only ingest items that are offered on the McDonald's menu. This includes bottled water. Any and all outside consumption of food is prohibited. He can't eat non-McItems.
  • He can only SuperSize the meal when asked.
  • If asked, he has to supersize the meal.
  • He will attempt to walk about as much as a typical American, based on a suggested figure of 5,000 steps per day,[4] but he did not closely adhere to this, as he walked relatively more while in New York than Houston.

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 22 minutes to eat. He experiences steadily increasing stomach aches during the process, which culminates in Spurlock vomiting in the parking lot.

After five days Spurlock has gained almost 10 pounds (4.5 kg) (from 185.5 to about 195 pounds). It is not long before he finds himself with a feeling of depression, and he claims that his bouts of depression, lethargy, and headaches are relieved by a McDonald's meal. One doctor describes him as "addicted." He has soon gained another 13 pounds (6 kg), putting his weight at 203.5 lb (92 kg). By the end of the month he weighs about 210 pounds (95.5 kg), an increase of about 24.5 pounds (about 11 kg). Because he could only eat McDonald's food for a month, Spurlock refused to take any medication at all. At one weigh-in Morgan lost 1 lb. from the previous weigh-in, but it was hypothesized by a nutritionist that he had lost muscle mass, which weighs more than an identical volume of fat.

Spurlock's girlfriend, Alexandra Jamieson, attests to the fact that Spurlock has lost much of his energy and sex drive during his experiment. It was not clear at the time if Spurlock would be able to complete the full month of the high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, and friends and family began to express concern.

In Day 21, Spurlock has heart palpitations. Consultation with his concerned internist, Dr. Daryl Isaacs advises him to stop what he is doing immediately to avoid any serious health problems. He compares Spurlock with the protagonist played by Nicolas Cage in the movie Leaving Las Vegas who deliberately drinks himself to death over a similar time period. Despite this warning, Spurlock decides to continue the experiment.

Spurlock makes it to day 30 and achieves his goal. In thirty days, he "Supersized" his meals nine times along the way (five of which were in Texas, three in New York City). All three doctors are surprised at the degree of deterioration in Spurlock's health. One of them states that the irreversible damage done to his heart could cause a heart attack even if he lost all the weight gained during the experiment. He notes that he has eaten more McDonald's meals than most nutritionists say the ordinary person should eat in 8 years (eating McDonald's once or twice a month per saying, which rounds up to 96 McMeals in an 8 year stretch).

[edit] Findings

Text at the conclusion of the movie states that it took Spurlock 5 months to lose 20 pounds (9 kg) and another 9.5 months to lose the last 4.5 pounds. His girlfriend Alexandra Jamieson, a vegan chef (not a dietitian or medical doctor), began supervising his recovery with her "detox diet," which became the basis for her book, The Great American Detox Diet.[5]

"The bottom line, they're a business, no matter what they say, and by selling you unhealthy food, they make millions, and no company wants to stop doing that."

The movie ends with a rhetorical question, "Who do you want to see go first, you or them?" with a cartoon tombstone for Ronald McDonald ("1954-2012") as a backdrop. The cartoon of the tombstone originated in The Economist where it appeared in an article addressing the ethics of marketing toward children.[6]

In the DVD release of the movie, a short epilogue was added about McDonald's discontinuation of the Super Size option six weeks later, as well as its recent emphasis of healthier menu items such as salads, and the release of the new adult happy meal. However, it is shown that the salads can contain even more calories than hamburgers, if the customer piles cheese and dressing on them. It is claimed that these changes had nothing to do with the film.

Another issue that Spurlock focuses on is the way McDonald's targets young children with ads before the kids themselves realize how harmful their food is. McDonald's spends approximately $1.4 billion annually on advertising, most of which is directed at pre-teens. In the movie, Spurlock jokes that he will battle the socialization of his children by punching them in the face every time they pass a McDonald's so that the golden arches do not elicit happy memories.

[edit] Reaction

The film opened in the U.S. on May 7, 2004, and grossed a total of $28,548,087 worldwide, making it the 9th highest grossing documentary film of all time.[7] It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary but lost to the film Born into Brothels. Also, the film received highly positive reviews; scoring, for example, 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. "Super Size Me" received two thumbs up on At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper.

[edit] Criticism

Critics of the film, including McDonald's, argue that the author intentionally consumed an average of 5,000 calories per day and did not exercise, and that the results would have been the same regardless of the source of the overeating.[8] He was eating solely McDonald's food in keeping with the terms of a potential judgment against McDonald's in court documents highlighted at the beginning of the film.

The film addresses such objections by highlighting that a part of the reason for Spurlock's deteriorating health was not just the high calorie intake but also the high quantity of fat relative to vitamins and minerals in the McDonald's menu, which is similar in that regard to the nutritional content of the menus of most other U.S. fast-food chains.

About 1/3 of his calories came from sugar. His nutritionist, Bridget Bennett RD, cited him about his excess intake of sugar from "milkshakes and cokes". It is revealed toward the end of the movie that over the course of the diet, he consumed "over 30 pounds of sugar, and over 12 lbs. of fat from their food".[9] The nutritional side of the diet was not fully explored in the film because of the closure, during the 30 days, of the clinic which was monitoring this aspect.

Spurlock claimed he was trying to imitate what an average diet for a regular eater at McDonald's, for a person who would get little to no exercise, would do to them. It is possible that 5,000 calories per day is an average diet for a typical consumer of McDonald's or any other fast food source, despite the fact that the average adult male only requires 2,500 calories per day to maintain their weight. However, Spurlock did not demonstrate that anyone, let alone a substantial number of people, eat at McDonald's three times per day. In fact McDonald's is mentioned during the movie to have two classes of users of their restaurants: There are the "Heavy Users," (about 72% of the people, who eat at their restaurants once or twice a week), and the "SUPER Heavy Users" (about 22% of the customers, who eat McDonald's just about every day of the year). But no one was found who ate at McDonalds three times a day. Morgan said that he was eating in thirty days the amount of fast food most nutritionists suggest someone should eat in eight years.[10]

[edit] Impact

Subsequent to the showing of the film at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, the Super Size fries and beverage were retired from the menu and McDonald's replaced them with more "healthful" alternatives though McDonald's denied that this was in reaction to the movie. In Summer 2006, Super Size beverage was brought back under the name 'Summer Size', but only for a limited time. The corporation did, however, issue a press release on their website, denouncing Spurlock's film and blaming the filmmaker for being a part of the problem, and not the solution. Morgan also mentions in the documentary that despite the addition of healthier options around the same time, McDonald's also added the McGriddle breakfast sandwich to their menu; Morgan called it one of the most unhealthy sandwiches they've ever made, saying it has more fat than the Big Mac and more sugar than their pack of cookies.

The film received the highest-ever opening for a documentary in Australia, and within two weeks of release, it sparked a massive negative ad campaign, with McDonald's admitting the essential unhealthiness of their food but blaming the customer for overindulging. Russo stated to News Limited that customers had been surprised that the company had not addressed the claims. McDonald's placed a 30-second ad spot in the opening trailers of all viewings of Super Size Me and also offered to pay movie theaters to allow McDonald's employees to distribute apples to patrons as they exited the film.[citation needed]

In recent years however, some McDonald's outlets in Australia have offered more nutritious alternatives to their customary menu, particularly where breakfast is concerned. This includes offerings of fresh fruit, and direct resale of popular breakfast cereals made by other companies. The "deli choices" breakfast items are also only made after ordering, so there is less chance of eating food that has been left to sit for some minutes. As of 2008 all burgers are now made to order.[citation needed]

In the United Kingdom, McDonald's placed a brief ad in the trailers of showings of the film, pointing to the website (archive). The ads simply stated, "See what we disagree with. See what we agree with."

In April 2006, when British newspaper The Guardian distributed a free DVD of the film, McDonald's placed a full-page advertisement on the back, which included a telephone number for complaints.

This movie's creation gave Spurlock an idea: a show entitled 30 Days, which aired on the American channel FX, British channel More 4, and on Australian Network Ten.

[edit] Alternative experiments

Various similar experiments were made in response to Super Size Me, in an effort to provide alternative scenarios or refute the impressions made by the film. These experiments, however, were mainly balanced diets and healthy eating programs, capable of demonstrating that it is possible to eat from the McDonald's menu without upsetting one's health. At the same time, Super Size Me and these similar experiments fall short of illustrating the healthiness of a typical McDonald's consumer's choice (the quintessential "burger, Coke and fries" meal). Alternate studies do not address the alterations that occurred to Spurlock's blood chemistry, but Super Size Me did not show that this was a special characteristic of fast-food diets, and not high-calorie diets in general or the lack of exercise. Note that Spurlock's original intention was to show that a typical American's food intake at McDonald's was unhealthy, not whether if it was possible to have a healthy meal at McDonald's.

  • At Linköping University Swedish scientist Fredrik Nyström repeated the experiment under laboratory conditions, raising the calorie intake by fast food to 6000 kcal per day for seven of his students. Physical exercise was discouraged; participants in the study were even issued free bus passes in the hopes that they would not walk even short distances. The calories also did not have to come exclusively from fast food per se, as long as most of the calories still came in the form of saturated fats. Students who fell short of their intake were given high-calorie shakes at bedtime. The results of the experiment were different than those in Spurlock's film. While the participants gained 5-15% extra weight during the study, and complained of feeling "tired and bloated", no mood swings were observed. "Significant" changes in the participants' livers were observed: "Eleven of the 18 volunteers persistently showed ALT above reference limits indicating liver damage" [1]. However, Nyström noted that these changes were "never even close to dangerous". Nyström ultimately decided that individual variations in metabolism could have a massive effect on a subject's response to such a diet. He also conjectured that Spurlock's apparently extreme reaction to his own experiment might have been due to undiagnosed liver problems, or his partially vegan diet, which rendered his metabolism ill-suited to deal with a diet high in animal protein, cholesterol and saturated fat.[11]
  • In New Jersey, documentary filmmaker Scott Caswell also performed a pro-McDonald's experiment. The results of his diet can be seen in his movie, Bowling for Morgan. It can be seen for free at here. Like Spurlock, Caswell consumed only McDonald's food but generally opted for the healthier choices and did not gorge himself - a fact that Caswell often compares to the overeating done by Spurlock, who was often seen forcing himself to eat when he was not hungry. Over the course of the experiment, he lost 20 pounds and his cholesterol fell sharply. However, Caswell's film depicted him eating many Premium Salads from McDonald's that were not available during the making of Super Size Me. Caswell does not reveal the details of his experiment, such as what meals he eats or their nutritional content.
  • San Antonio, Texas resident Deshan Woods went on a 90-day diet in which he lost nearly 14 pounds. He documented the entire experiment on his website His overall health improved while sticking to a diet mainly in burgers and fries. He stayed away from sugary drinks and stuck to non-caloric beverages instead. His average caloric intake was 2,500 kcal a day, which included 130 grams of fat. His cholesterol went down about 44 points.
  • Professor James Painter, chair of Eastern Illinois University's School of Family and Consumer Sciences, made the documentary Portion Size Me. The film follows two graduate students, one a 254-pound male and the other a 108-pound female, as they ate a fast-food diet for a month but in portions appropriate for their size. Both students lost weight and their cholesterol improved by the end of the experiment.[12]
  • Keiji Matsumoto, a civilian in Urayasu, Japan, tried to live with McDonald's food for 30 days. However, his experiment was conducted using modified version of Super Size Me rules. In particular, there was no supersizing rule since Japanese McDonald's restaurants did not offer such an option. The experiment was held twice, in 2004 and 2006, both describing his experiences in blogs, with no changes in weight and health.[13] The first McDonald experiment was made into a book (ISBN 4-3966-1268-0)[14], which also includes details of a 30-day experiment of healthy eating with cup noodle, and a 10-day experiment of eating and surviving during earthquake.
  • Sweden, 2007 - Johan Groundstroem decided to go on a diet consisting exclusively of hamburgers. He was sponsored with free hamburgers from the Swedish fast food chain Max. In 90 days he lost weight steadily from 127.7 kg at the start of the diet to approximately 90 kg. His blog (named Minimize Me), detailing his diet and weight loss, is available in Swedish and English.

[edit] "The Smoking Fry"

Spurlock also filmed another demonstration which he called "The Smoking Fry." It can be seen in the special features of the film's DVD. In this demonstration, he leaves McDonald's food (an order of French Fries, a Big Mac, a Filet-O-Fish, a Chicken McGrill, and a Quarter Pounder with cheese) along with a burger and fries from a "slow food" type of restaurant in jars in order to see the rate at which the different meals decomposed, and implies that the same is done when the food is consumed. The burger and fries from the alternate restaurant decomposed quickly, as did most of the McDonald's food, with the exception of the Big Mac and the McDonald's french fries. The Big Mac lasted five weeks. The documentary claims that after 10 weeks the fries still had not begun to decompose and were thrown out by an intern due to the smell of the McSandwiches.

Spurlock's implications in this clip were particularly misleading, because they ignored the nature of food spoilage. Decomposition is not related to the way that human body digests food. Food decomposition mainly comes from two sources, the smaller of which is the food's own enzymes (as it was once part of a living organism), and more significantly the presence of micro-organisms introduced to the food from the environment, such as moulds. The water activity of the food also plays an important role in the growth of micro-organisms in the food. The dramatic difference in decomposition rates could be explained by a lower water activity or the presence of preservatives.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings and Seven Steps to End Them Naturally by Neal Barnard, M.D., St. Martin’s Press (June 2003)
  2. ^ Fast food is addictive in same way as drugs, say scientists | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at BNET
  3. ^ "NY Times: Super Size Me". NY Times. Retrieved on 2008-11-23. 
  4. ^ Figure supplied by Mark Fenton, former editor Walking Magazine, in scene from the movie'
  5. ^ Jamieson, Alex. "The Great American Detox Diet". Retrieved on 2007-05-15. 
  6. ^ Spurlock, in audio commentary track
  7. ^ "Documentary Movies, 1982-Present". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2007-05-15. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Scenes from movie. About 2000 calories in a lb of sugar, of nearly 5000 calories consumed per day, accounts for just under 36% percent of his caloric intake
  10. ^ Spurlock, in the movie, and again on the DVD commentary track
  11. ^ Kechagias S, Ernersson A, Dahlqvist O, Lundberg P, Lindström T, Nystrom FH (2008). "Fast food based hyper-alimentation can induce rapid and profound elevation of serum alanine aminotransferase in healthy subjects". Gut 57: 649–654. doi:10.1136/gut.2007.131797. PMID 18276725.  Discussed in Blomkvist, Martin. (2006). "Only Another 5,500 Calories to Go...". The Guardian UK. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  12. ^ "EIU Prof's 'Portion Size Me' Says Bring on the Fast Food -- In Moderation". Eastern Illinois University. 2005-10-17. Retrieved on 2007-05-15. 
  13. ^ マクドナルド スーパーサイズミー 30日間マクドナルド生活
  14. ^ 30日間マクドナルド生活 自分の体で実験してみました。

[edit] External links


  • Blomkvist , Marten . " Only another 5,500 calories to go ... | Life and style | The Guardian ." Latest news, sport, business, comment and reviews from the Guardian | . 7 Nov. 2006. 22 Dec. 2008 <
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