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POLICY: Super Size This! By John Pluenneke

Supersizeposte200_1 As if the US fast food industry didn’t have enough worries with new labeling rules under discussion at the FDA and the campaign for healthy school foods being led in California by the Governator, there is more bad news on the way. Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me has been edited down and re-released so that it can be shown to middle school and high school audiences.  The film, which shows Spurlock’s physical deterioration over the course of a month as he consumes a steady diet of Big Macs, fries and sodas, has won praise from nutritionists for its depiction of the health problems junk food can lead to.  Perhaps objectionable segments, like the moment where Spurlock’s vegan chef girlfriend discusses the impact of his fast food diet on his penis with almost eery clinical detachment have been edited
out.   What sort of impact could the film have? According to a
report in Newsday, students in New York went on strike last week after watching the film, demanding healthier food. Could this mean a wave of radical civil disobedience might follow at school cafeterias and vending machines across the country? 

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  1. I have a secret theory that the obesity epidemic can be connected to the explosion in diagnosis of depression & use of pharmaceuticals to treat depression. This theory is based only on anecdotal evidence – discussions with a number of women who all relate a period of rapid weight gain and subsequent difficulty in managing their weight to a period of taking SSRI anti-depressants.
    Matt challenged me to do some actual research on this, and I made a stab at it before my current troubles cropped up. I did find articles that estimated that 10% of the population was depressed, and the article that is cited for this figure was written before all the TV commercials started bombarding people with the message to self-diagnose depression, stress, “social anxiety”, etc. I would argue there is tremendous social pressure and media pressure for people to respond to difficult circumstances and unhappiness through seeking medication.
    While most anti-depressants have been linked to weight gain, SSRI’s have actually been linked to short-term weight loss, though later studies showed that the weight comes back after a year. From my anecdotal evidence, the weight not only returns but spirals out of control.
    I did find one article that correlated the obesity epidemic with increased pharmaceutical treatment of depression: http://www.psychiatrist.com/pcc/brainstorm/br591001.htm
    I frankly think this is the tip of the ice continent, and researchers haven’t yet put a lot of effort into framing this question.
    The health care crisis is not only being driven by the rising costs of pharmaceuticals. It’s being driven by the increased incidence of health care problems linked to obesity. Pharmaceuticals have been required to address other supposedly maladaptive behaviors such as recreational drug addiction, smoking, etc. As more patients pour into the system, strain has been placed on administrative and technology costs. Health care professionals are concerned about managing large-scale patient populations and extracting payment for services. They will lobby to improve the rate of payment and promote innovation in the sphere of health care. The public concern should be to address the social infrastructure problems that cause depression: life-work balance issues that foster physical inactivity, increasing social isolation in the wake of weakening family ties, and socio-economic inequalities caused by a dysfunctional work allocation system in a world where a person can’t fall back on the family farm. The credit system has disguised the problem of financial stress for too long, and the result is that a ridiculous portion of people in the U.S. are functioning from day to day in impossible circumstances. Telling these people to go take drugs to deal with their depression just exacerbates the problem by increasing the overall costs of health care.

  2. From California Healthline:
    Schwarzenegger Plans Conference To Address Obesity in California
    April 18, 2005
    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is planning a summit conference with researchers, business leaders and medical experts to establish a plan to address obesity among California residents, according to aides to the governor, the Sacramento Bee reports (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 4/18).
    As part of his state budget plan, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in January proposed providing $6 million for the California Obesity Initiative, a new project that has received support from some health experts and criticism from others, who say more funding is needed to address obesity in California (California Healthline, 1/13).
    In addition, California legislators have proposed several obesity-related measures, including bills to:
    * Increase cigarette taxes by $1 per pack and use $500 million of the revenue each year for obesity, nutrition, physical activity or related programs;
    * Set standards for nutrition instruction in public schools;
    * Ban soda sales in high schools, except for extracurricular activities; and
    * Require food served in public schools to meet nutrition standards, restrict portion sizes of food sold a la carte and set calorie limits for items sold in campus vending machines.
    Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) said it is unclear whether the bills will be approved this year. She said, “I think the Schwarzenegger administration coming in, being identified with fitness, certainly has given people a sense that they have an opportunity with him,” adding, “And I believe we do” (Sacramento Bee, 4/18).

  3. It seems an unfortunate reality these days. In order to be heard above the din of MTV, sound bytes and the ever present cell phone and iPod, one needs to be equally loud and outrageous. I wish it were not the case, but most people have very short attention spans, especially teenagers.
    As evidenced by recent trends, fast food doesnt have to be so unhealthy. I am grateful to Spurlock and others like him for giving the fast food industry a little nudge.

  4. For me, it’s about the message. Sometimes you have to raise your voice in order to be heard. People don’t listen otherwise. That’s the reason a lot of documentaries like Spurlock’s – and Moore’s – are taking the confrontational approach. The idea isn’t to kill fast food, its to make people start to think about what they eat. Anyway, I somehow doubt the French Fry is in any danger of sudden extinction.

  5. If Spurlock’s film – however slanted against fast food – inspires kids to eat less fast food and eat more healthy food, then it has served its purpose. How can that be a bad thing?

  6. I just saw a commercial for Spurlock’s new TV series, where he spends 30 days doing various other things like hanging out in prison.
    If he has an accident or develops a major health condition, I want him to spend 30 days without insurance…

  7. Seems ridiculous to me that the film will be re-released in a version to be shown to high school students. While I thoroughly enjoyed Supersize Me, it was obviously biased and significantly slanted.
    Les Sayer a teacher in Canada did his own version which included some exercise and actually lost weight and appears to have improved his health overall. Here’s the link.
    http://homepage.mac.com/lsayer/mcles/index.html
    Seems the time watching this film full of biased views and related propaganda would be better spent presenting sound researched based health and nutritional information. Unfortunately we all seem to want to blame someone else for our vices and Spurlock makes a more interesting film than the NIH or USDA.

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