the Disillusioned kid: Supersize This!
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Monday, September 27, 2004

Supersize This!

Apparently this is the year of the left-leaning (for want of a better term) blockbuster. We've had Fahrenheit 9/11 tackle the Bush Administration and the invasion of Iraq, The Motorcycle Diaries depict the life (or at least a part thereof) of Che Guevara and now Supersize Me has weighed (if you'll excuse the pun) into the fray to take on McDonalds. John Wayne must be turning in his grave.

Unless you've been confined to an "undisclosed location" for the past few months, you can hardly be unaware of the film's central conceit, but in case you missed it the film is basically a documentary centered around Morgan Spurlock's month-long McDonalds binge. During this time he can eat nothing which isn't sold beneath the golden arches. He must eat everything on the menu at least once and is required to "supersize" his meals when prompted by staff. Additionally he restricts his exercise to that of the average American. He is monitored throughout his mission by various medical professionals who keep track of his statistics.

Again, that the "diet" has a serious effect on his health is widely known. Nonetheless it is striking to watch those monitoring his progress who initially expect him to merely put on some weight over the month, shift very quickly to encouraging him to stop, warning him that he could face serious consequences if he doesn't. His GP even compares the effects on his body to an alcohol binge, stating that if that were what Spurlock were doing he would be facing a very real danger of death. Perhaps the most striking, and potentially most powerful, revelation is the detrimental effect that the McDiet has on Spurlock's libido, much to his (vegan) girlfriend's distress. Big Mac, small dick?!

One review I saw, suggested that the film was closer to Jackass then Bowling For Colombine and indeed there are parallels. The idea of pushing your body beyond sensible limits and the slightly perverted sense of humour are recurring themes. We even see Spurlock throwing up after making his way through his first "supersized" meal. Nonetheless the central theme of the film is not Spurlock's excesses nor even the evils of McDonald, instead it is fundamentally a sound documentary about the obesity epidemic. The statistics the film gives about this are shocking. Obesity is apparently on its way to overtaking smoking as the biggest cause of preventable death in the States and is also a major contributor to other public health issues such as diabetes. While most of the information is given applies primarily to the US, it is obvious that the UK is not so far behind its Atlantic counterpart and making extensive efforts to catch-up. It is a problem, Spurlock makes clear, which we ignore at our peril.

The film raises some important issues and in my opinion is an absolute must-see. Nonetheless questions do arise about exactly what the experiment demonstrates. That no-body eats all there meals in McDonalds is, at least hopefully, a truism, but his argument that many Americans do eat there several times a week and do only limited exercise, thus making his ordeal merely an accelerated model of their lives has some merit. However, it is worth noting that prior to the beginning of the month Spurlock's health is above average, suggesting he does at least some exercise, and given that his wife is a vegan chef he presumably eats a healthy diet. To switch from this to the McDiet and very limited exercise routine (which involves catching taxis to and from McDonalds in some cases) may have generated results which would not have appeared in "average" Americans more used to a high-fat diet and little or no exercise. None of which takes away from the fundamental message: this shit is bad for you.

Go see it for yourselves and come to your own conclusions.

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