McDonald's restaurants have recently discontinued "super sizing" their meals. No more 8-ounce french fries and 42-ounce sodas for just a few cents more. Although a McDonald's press release denies any link between the release of Morgan Spurlock's film "Super Size Me" and this policy change, this decision was announced just a day before the opening of the film, which won the best director prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
"Super Size Me" is a hilarious and horrifying look at what eating fast food three meals a day for a month can do to your health. Spurlock, the producer, director and star of this documentary film, went on an all-McDonald's diet. Three doctors - an internist, a cardiologist and a gastroenterologist - plus a nutritionist who monitored his health regularly all seemed genuinely surprised to see how quickly this all fast food diet damaged Spurlock's health.
Spurlock gained 25 pounds in a month. His body fat zoomed up from a low 11 percent up to 18 percent. His cholesterol and liver enzymes went up to dangerous levels. His health care advisers implored him to stop the all-McDonald's diet after just two weeks for fear he could permanently damage his health.
But the gimmick of Spurlock's month-long McDonald's diet is only part of the film.
He also traveled the country, talking with nutrition experts, school lunchroom cooks, marketing reps and children about the prevalence of fast food in the United States.
At least 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and former Surgeon General David Satcher believes that fast food is a major contributor to this problem.
The fast food industry spends billions of dollars each year on marketing to children in an attempt to "brand" them. Most fast food chains have special kid's meals with collectable toys. Many fast food restaurants have brightly colored playground equipment that attracts children and their parents, especially in neighborhoods and towns where playgrounds are nonexistent.
Despite the fact that most nutrition experts recommend eating fast food no more than once a month, 1 in 4 Americans eat at a fast food restaurant each day.
The most disturbing aspect of "Super Size Me" was Spurlock's look at school cafeterias.
Most schools do not provide any freshly prepared foods, depending solely on canned or frozen processed food that is heated or fried before serving. Spurlock interviewed children and teenagers who freely admitted to having just french fries and a sugary drink for lunch.
One alternative school in Wisconsin bucked this trend. The cafeteria serves wholesome, freshly prepared food. No sodas, no junk food. The students looked calm and mature - quite a difference from the average high school cafeteria scene.
The school administrators see a significant difference in students' behavior and ability to focus. I have long wondered if attention deficit disorder and other learning and behavioral problems can be attributed to poor diets.
Young bodies and minds do not function best on a sugar, caffeine, salt and fat-filled diet. After two weeks of his diet, Spurlock felt consistently fatigued and depressed.
The only time he felt good was when he was eating. This high-fat, sugar- and caffeine-filled diet put him on a metabolic roller coaster.
Humans are more productive and our mood is more consistent when we eat healthy food.
When "Super Size Me" comes out on video, I hope all parents, teachers, school administrators and health-care providers will have a chance to watch it. We need to begin a long-overdue discussion about the quality of the food served in schools, and make some serious changes.
If fast food restaurants start downsizing their serving sizes and selling healthier alternatives in response to this film, then Spurlock has done a great service to a nation in the midst of an obesity epidemic.