October 26, 2004 -- This is a surprisingly effective low-budget documentary film about a filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, who undergoes a simple experiment. He eats three meals a day for an entire month at McDonald's restaurants. He also ties this experiment into a neat package of information about the reasons for America's epidemic of obesity.
The object of the experiment is to see what the health implications of this diet are for Spurlock. The rules of the experiment are simple. He can eat no food which is not on the McDonald's menu. He has to try everything on the menu at least once, and if the person taking his order asks him if he wants to super size any menu item, he must agree to eat the larger portion. He also restricts the amount of daily exercise he gets to that exerted by the average American.
To get an accurate baseline record of his health prior to the experiment, he gets thorough physical examinations from three doctors and he consults with a dietician. He is in excellent condition at the beginning of the experiment with healthy blood pressure, low body fat, near ideal weight and good blood chemistry. Spurlock's girlfriend, Alexandra Jamieson, a vegetarian chef, does not approve of this experiment from the beginning, and expresses many more reservations as the experiment moves forward.
Even at the beginning of the experiment, there are some disturbing images as Spurlock's body revolts at the introduction of this high-fat, high-carb, high-sodium diet. After a time, however, Spurlock seems to exhibit symptoms of addiction to some elements of the diet.
As the experiment wears on, Spurlock's weight skyrockets, his kidney function is impaired, his blood pressure goes up and cholesterol levels in his blood balloon. Spurlock suffers from headaches, a reduction in energy and decreased sexual function, which Alexandra complains about in surprising detail and candor.
Spurlock's doctors, some of whom initially thought the diet would have no significant impact on Spurlock's health, are clearly astonished at the rapidity and severity of the onset of serious health problems. Especially surprising to doctors is the effects his new diet has on his liver, which becomes saturated with fat. One doctor, in particular, pleads with Spurlock to abandon the experiment. Spurlock, though worried, eats bravely on.
If this experiment were all the movie had to offer, that would be fine, but it goes several extra miles to interview nutritionists, educators and media experts. We see the effects of the fast food culture on school lunch programs. We see how McDonald's effectively markets to children. We see how the decline in physical education programs in schools, combined with a fast food onslaught, has created a generation of children with bodies like those of middle-aged adults, complete with diabetes and other age-related illnesses. Surprisingly, the "No Child Left Behind" legislation is contributing to America's health crisis because it emphasizes academics at the expense of health. The movie argues academics and health are closely linked. We also see how some schools have reversed this trend to offer healthy school cafeteria fare.
The movie is brimming with humor, but it has a serious side, too. It is an urgent, convincing plea for better American diets, especially for children, and for a return to effective physical education programs in schools. This film rates a B+.
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