Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Super Size Me
Super Size Me is a 2004 documentary film directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock, an independent U.S. filmmaker. It follows a period in which he eats only McDonald's fast food, three times a day, every day, for 30 days - and stops exercising regularly - and documents the physical and psychological effects this has upon him. In addition, Spurlock explores the corporate influence of the fast food industry and how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit.
Spurlock, age 33, was healthy and slim, with a body mass of 185.5 lb (84 kg). Spurlock's height is 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m). After 30 days, he gained 24.5 lb (11 kg), an increase of 13% of his body mass. He also experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and nearly catastrophic liver damage.
The driving factor for Spurlock's investigation was the increasing spread of obesity throughout American 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 claimed, became obese as a result of eating too much McDonald's food. Spurlock points out that, although the lawsuit against McDonald's failed, much of the same criticism of the tobacco companies applies to fast food franchises.
The film opened in the U.S. on May 7, 2004, and was very successful for a documentary film, staying in the top ten of the box office for two weeks. It has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
At the start of his 'McAttack', Spurlock is physically above average, as attested to by the three doctors he enlists to track his health during the month-long binge. All three predict the McMonth will have unwelcome effects on his body, but none expect anything too drastic, one citing the human body as being 'very adaptable'.
Spurlock starts the month with a McBreakfast in his native Manhattan with one McDonald's per 1/4 square mile (0.7 km²), and also with an increase in taxi rides, as he aims to keep the distances he walks in line with the 2500 steps walked per day by the average American. Spurlock has several rules which govern his eating habits:
- He must eat 3 McDonald's meals a day;
- He must sample at least once every option on the McDonald's menu;
- He cannot purchase anything not on the menu;
- He will "Super Size" his meal if and only if he is invited to.
Day 2 brings Spurlock's first Super Size meal, and also his first 'McStomachache', as he calls it, characterized by 'McGurgles', 'McTwitches' and 'McGas'. The food eventually causes him to vomit.
After 5 days Spurlock has gained almost 10 pounds (5 kg). It is not long before he finds himself with an inexplicable feeling of depression, and not much longer until he finds 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 10 pounds, putting his weight at 203 lb (92 kg). By the end of the month he weighs about 210 lb (95.5 kg), an increase of almost 25 lb (11 kg) which takes him five months to lose again.
Spurlock's girlfriend, a vegan chef who helps him "detox" with a carefully arranged diet after the month is over, attests to the fact that Spurlock has lost much of his energy and sex drive during his experiment.
Around day 20 Spurlock experiences heart palpitations. Consultation with his concerned general practitioner, Dr Daryl Isaacs, reveals that Spurlock's liver is 'turning into pâté', and the doctor advises him to stop what he is doing immediately to avoid any serious heart problems. He compares Spurlock with the protagonist in Leaving Las Vegas who deliberately drinks himself to death over a similar time period.
Spurlock makes it to day 30, achieving his goal having been 'Supersized' 9 times along the way (5 of which were in Texas, the state with the highest number of America's 'fattest' cities according to one somewhat controversial study). All three doctors are surprised at the degree of deterioration in Spurlock's health.
Alongside Spurlock's personal travails are interviews and sections detailing various factors that could account for America's high obesity rates. Discussed is the lack of healthy food available in many American schools, the 'luring in' of youth by advertising and McDonald's kid-friendly play parks and clowns, and the relationship, if any, between food companies' stockholder profit and their customer health concerns.
Like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, the film is about the dark side of the fast food industry. It suggests that prolonged consumption of fast food may be very unhealthy, at least if, as in the movie, you do not eat anything else besides that. The lack of exercise is not addressed, and critics claim this would change the overall tone of the piece.
Subsequent to the showing of the film at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald's phased out its Supersize meal option, and began offering healthier menu items in addition to its customary fat food, though McDonald's denied that this was in reaction to the movie.
The film received the highest-ever opening for a documentary in Australia and, within two weeks of release, sparked a massive negative ad campaign, with an estimated cost of 1.4 million USD, from McDonald's of Australia. CEO Guy Russo described the documentary, on television commercials which aired on all major Australian networks, as being "about a person that decides to overeat", and attempted to minimize Spurlock's claim of the unhealthiness of fast food by agreeing with it. Russo stated to News Limited that customers had been surprised that the company hadn't 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 theatres to allow McDonald's employees to distribute apples to patrons as they exited the film.
In the United Kingdom, McDonald's placed a brief ad in the trailers of showings of the film, pointing to the website www.supersizeme-thedebate.co.uk. The ads simply stated "See what we disagree with. See what we agree with.".
In popular culture
The phrase "super size me" has become a synonym of "big and useless" these days. For example, in a New York Times article, the author writes: "[Even though some smaller companies are quality-oriented,] large corporate construction companies still rule the sites, with their supersize-me approach to building."  It is additionally used as the representative for the entire artificial culture (e.g. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, etc.).
In the Netherlands Wim Meij, a reporter of "Algemeen Dagblad" (a renowned Dutch newspaper), did a similar experiment. However, instead of choosing just any meal from the menu, he carefully chose his menu. He actually came out at least as healthy as he was before he started his 30-day experiment. He lost 6.5kg and also other things (like his blood pressure) were affected positively.
In New Jersey, Scott Caswell, a documentary filmmaker also did a similar experiment. The results of his diet can be seen in his movie titled Bowling for Morgan. It can be seen for free at BowlingForMorgan.com
- The Super Size Me website
- When All Those Big Macs Bite Back
- Bowling For Morgan - A free 30 minute rebuttal movie by Scott Caswell
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