if response to Spurlocks film is any indicator, the obsession
with obesity is more epidemic than obesity itself.
and Obesity: An Epidemic Obsession
documentary has served as an instrument for filmmakers to delve
into some of historys most salient issues and occurrences
the American Civil War, Nazi Germany, the Arab-Israeli conflict.
After recent screenings at the Sundance Film Festival of "Super
Size Me: A Film of Epidemic Proportions," America can proudly
add to that list its most recent cause celebre: eating too much
"Super Size Me," director-producer Morgan Spurlock put
himself on a McDonalds-only diet for a month, eating three
squares a day and accepting all offers to super-size. Alas, the
films Web site (and a little common sense) ruins the suspense
by revealing the experiments astonishing results: he gained
says he aimed to educate the public about the obesity "epidemic,"
but if the promotional materials are any indicator, demonizing the
worlds most popular fast food chain runs a very close second.
Filmgoers at the Sundance Film Festival received "unhappy meals"
conveniently combining information about obesity with details about
McDonalds, and a "Super Size Me" poster displays
a bloated Ronald McDonald wearing a dollar-sign necklace. Of course,
in reality, the fast food giant is currently using Ronald to promote
exercise and healthier eating, particularly among children.
his quest to identify the dangers of month-long McDonalds
binges, Spurlock also included interviews with obesity experts and
fast food consumers. The panoply of conclusions Spurlock reached
include such jaw droppers as "fast food is a major contributor
to the obesity epidemic" and "eating fast food may be
dangerous to your health." Conspicuously absent from the obesity
statistics Spurlock cites is any explanation of the numbers behind
have repeatedly pointed out internal problems with the method used
for calculating obese and overweight individuals. Both are determined
based on the Body Mass Index, which takes into account only a persons
height and weight. Because the BMI fails to measure body fat, muscular
and athletic individuals often fall into the categories of overweight
or obese. For example, critics of the standard have pointed out
that according to the BMI, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, George Clooney
and a majority of professional athletes are either overweight or
obese. On the other end of the spectrum, elderly people with decreased
muscle mass may fall into a "healthy" weight category
despite obvious nutrition deficiencies. Further, at least some portion
of the recent increase in "overweight" Americans is undoubtedly
a product of the government lowering the BMI standard in 1998.
question whether weight is a reliable indicator of health in the
first place, because it fails to account for an individuals
activity level. Some doctors argue that overweight individuals with
strong cardiovascular and aerobic endurance are healthier than thinner
individuals who get no aerobic exercise.
all Americans are buying into the "obesity epidemic."
One law school professor, Paul Campos of the University of Colorado,
is scheduled to release a book this spring examining Americas
obsession with obesity and weight. The book also promises a deeper
look into the imprecision of widely-quoted obesity statistics. Accusations
that fast food restaurants are "coercing" children into
unhealthy eating have recently been challenged as well. A New York-based
marketing consulting group conducted a survey last year on childrens
attitudes toward food and found that most children surveyed knew
what made foods healthy or unhealthy, preferred home cooked meals
to fast food, and deferred to their parents on when and what they
were allowed to eat.
obesity obsession is nothing new, which Spurlock obviously realized
when he began his documentary. After all, Americans love to talk
about weight, read about weight, and legislate about weight; why
wouldnt they jump at the chance to watch it emerge before
their very eyes? And if response to Spurlocks film is any
indicator, the obsession with obesity is more epidemic than obesity
itself. The documentary was the hit of the film festival, and both
its theater and video rights have been purchased. Critics have called
the film a "powerful manifesto" and characterized it as
"so relevant" and "life-altering," suggesting
they are as goofy as Spurlock if watching someone eat fast food
for 30 days straight can alter their lives.
Size Me" is scheduled for release to the general public this
spring, so time will tell whether Americans really have nothing
better to do than sit around and watch someone eat McDonalds
(which, itself, evokes disturbing implications about our countrys
activity level). But if people really need to see someone eat fast
food for a month to figure out that its not a good idea, then
our country has much bigger problems than obesity.
Murphy is a Contributing Editor with the Center for Individual Freedom.
February 12, 2004]
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