Notes on "Super Size Me" by C. Kray

Written and directed by Morgan Spurlock.  Produced by Morgan Spurlock and The Con.  Distributed by Kathbur Pictures, 2004.  98 min. 

DVD 660.  Closed captioned.

Official film website:


"Everything is bigger in America."

"America has now become the fattest nation in the worldÉ. Nearly 100 million Americans are now overweight or obese.  That's more than 60% of all U.S. adults.  Since 1980, the total number of overweight Americans has doubled, with twice as many overweight children, and three times as many overweight adolescents."

When he was growing up, his mother cooked dinner everyday.  They never went out to eat.  Now, families do it regularly.

"Obesity is now second only to smoking as a major preventable cause of death in America, with over 400,000 deaths each year due to related illnesses."

"Each day, one out of four Americans visits a fast food restaurant."

"McDonald's alone operates more than 30,000 joints in over 100 countriesÉ and feeds more than 46 million people every day."

"In the United States alone, McDonald's accounts for 43% of the total fast-food market." 

In 2002, when a lawsuit was filed in NYS against McDonald's on behalf of two overweight teens, the lawyers argued that the "dangers of its fare were well-known."  The judge said that if they can demonstrate that McDonald's intends customers to eat every meal of every day there and that eating such a diet would be "unreasonably dangerous," then they might have a claim.

Wanted to know what would happen if he ate only McDonald's food for a month.  Would it be "unreasonably dangerous"?

Three doctors observing him: cardiologist, gastroenterologist, general practitioner.  Had three full physicals, and was found to be in good health; doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs.  Normal sex life.  Cholesterol and blood sugar levels were found to be "excellent." Starting cholesterol: 168, "superb."  Fasting blood sugar "is very low."  "Your kidney function, your liver function, they were all perfect."  Triglyceride level (affected by fat intake) was 43, "which is low."  "Your general health is outstanding."  Doctors predicted possible increases in triglycerides and cholesterol: "Your liver will be able to metabolize any additional fats."

Also consulted a nutritionist.  Beginning weight: 185.5.  Body mass index: normal.  Calorie needs: 2500/day.  Fat needs: 80g/day.   Saturated fat needs: less than 25g/day.

Consulted an exercise physiologist.  Treadmill cardiovascular stress test.  Skinfold calipers to test body density: 11% body fat: "that's great."  "You're above average fitness for your age." 

"More than 60% of Americans get no exercise, so for the next thirty days, neither will I."

2000 steps on a pedometer = 1 mile.

A person who works in an office and drives to work "may take as little as 2500 to 3000 steps a day" (according to an expert on walking fitness). "If you want to feel physically like a lot of Americans do, then you'd limit yourself to about 5000 steps a day."

He passes three McDonald's in just over a mile on his regular walk to work.  "There are more McDonald's in Manhattan than anywhere else in the world."  22.4 square miles and 83 McDonald's restaurants ("nearly 4 per square mile").

Started taking cabs to work so he wouldn't get more activity than the average American.

Rules: "Can only Super Size when asked." "Can only eat food from McDonald'sÉwater included."  "Has to eat everything on the menu at least once."  "Must eat three meals a day."

John Banzaf, law professor (GWU): "We eat out something like forty percent of our meals."  He is advising lawyers suing fast food companies.  (He successfully sued tobacco companies.)  Says it's important to focus on McDonald's because more than other fast food companies, it lures in children.  Indoor playgrounds: "In many places there are no other playgrounds, you've got to take your kids there.  So, even at two, three, four, kids are being lured there."  They host birthday parties.  "TheyÉpioneered the Happy Meals."  Ronald McDonald (the clown) also is used to market to kids. 

Samuel Hirsch is one of the two lawyers suing McDonald's.

Former U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher, M.D.: "I think fast food companies are a major contributor to this epidemic."  He declared obesity a national epidemic in 2000.  "We're super sizing everything."  Notes how fast food workers are trained to ask if you want to super size the meal for just a few cents more.  

Lisa Young, Ph.D., RD, CDN, Professor of Nutrition, New York University: One serving of meat is 3 ounces, which looks like a deck of cards.  A serving of meat in a restaurant is often four or five times as large as the designated serving.  A typical bagel represents five servings of bread.  The typical servings of food keep getting larger.  When McDonald's first opened, there was one size of fries (about 200 calories).  Now, that's the small, and there is also medium, large, and super size (over 600 calories).  "When Burger King first opened, they had a twelve-ounce small and a sixteen-ounce large [sodas].  The twelve-ounce is now the 'kiddie', the sixteen-ounce is now the 'small', the medium, the 32, and the 42É. Cars have introduced larger cupholders to accommodate those huge, 7-11 Double Gulps, which are 64 ounces, a half-gallon, and include anywhere from 600 to 800 calories, depending on how much ice you put inÉ. a half-gallon of sodaÉ 48 teaspoons of sugar."

Ordered a double quarter pounder meal, and super sized it when asked.  The double quarter pounder with cheese has more calories than anything [else on the menu].  Took him 22 minutes to eat it all, and then he threw up.

Kelly Brownell, PhD, Professor, Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders: "I believe we live in a toxic food and physical inactivity environment, that is, we live in an environment that almost guarantees that we get sick.  Not all people get sick, but the number of people who get sick is growing." 

Spurlock: "The toxic environment is constant access to cheap, fat laden foodsÉ. It's a nation where there are 3 million soda vending machines, that's one vending machine for every 97 Americans.  It's a nation where people depend on cars for their transportation." 

Satchel: "Left unabated, obesity would overtake smoking as the number one preventable cause of death in this country."  "In the last 20-25 years, we've actually seen a doubling of overweight and obese children and adolescents."

Spurlock: "And this weight gain has been linked to countless health problems later in life, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, endometrial cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, dyslipidemia [lipoprotein metabolism disorder], steatohepatitis [type of liver disease characterized by fat accumulation in the liver, which may lead to cirrhosis of the liver], insulin resistance, asthma, hyperglycemia, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, impaired fertility, and adult onset diabetes.  In fact, if current trends continue, one out of every three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime."

Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services: "At least 17 million Americans have Type-2 diabetes, about one out of every twenty people."

William Klish, MD, Head of Dept. of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital: "If the diabetes starts before the age of 15, you lose somewhere between 17 and 27 years of lifespan."

Thompson: "The direct medical costs associated with diabetes have doubled in the past five years." 

Klish: There is a link between childhood diabetes and liver dysfunction.  They are in the early stages of cirrhosis of the liver.  "If they don't change their eating and lifestyle habits, they are going to end up with liver failure, and either transplant or death."

Jared Fogle (spokesperson for Subway Restaurants) speaking to a middle school audience.  Used to weigh 425 pounds. 

John Robbins, Health Advocate, Author: Diet for a New America.  Son of one of the founders of Baskin-Robbins ice cream company.  Felt sick a lot of the time as a child.  Could eat ice cream any time he wanted to, even ate it for breakfast.  His uncle, the other founder of the company, died at age 51 of a heart attack (about 240 pounds).  His father suffered from "very serious diabetes."  Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's) had a quintuple bypass operation at the age of 49. 

Nutritionist says he's taking in an average of 4,986 calores/day (twice as much as he needs).  She recommended he eat the yogurt instead of the hot fudge sundae.  The snack size (5 oz.) does have fewer calories.  But regular size has 500 calories, nearly as much as a strawberry sundae.  "With the granola, it has more calories than the hot fudge or the caramel sundae." 

After 5 days, weighs 194 pounds.  Gained 5% of his body weight. 

In their lawsuit deposition, McDonald's argued that, "it isÉa matter of common knowledge that any processing that its foods undergo serve to make them more harmful than unprocessed foods." 

McNuggets are made from "chickens that have unusually large breasts."  Meat ground up and mixed with stabilizers and preservatives, breaded and deep-fried.  Long list of chemical ingredients. 

Beginning to develop pressure in the chest.  One of the crew tells him that he smells bad.

Don Gorske, Big Mac Enthusiast.  He eats an average of two Big Macs a day.  Last year: 741.  "Probably 90% of my solid diet is Big Macs." 

Brownell: "The average American child sees 10,000 food advertisements per year on television.  95% of those are for sugared cereals, soft drinks, fast foods, or candy.

Margo Wootan, D.Sc., Center for Science in the Public Interest: "By the time kids are able speak, most of them can say 'McDonald's'."

First graders shown photos.  Could recognize George Washington and Ronald McDonald, but not Jesus or Wendy.

In 2001, McDonald's spent $1.4 billion on direct media advertising ("radio, television, and print") worldwide.  Pepsi spent more than $1 billion.  Hershey Foods spent $200 million.  The 5 fruits and vegetables per day campaign had only $2 million to spend.

McDonald's ketchup includes high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup.

McDonald's nutrition information is online, but according to 2000 census, half of U.S. households lacked Internet access.  Spurlock looked for the information at the stores.  Some stores had only a wall poster, some had only pamphlets.  Only half had wall poster, some had pamphlets, and ¼ had no information available. 

Gained 17 pounds in 12 days.  Nutritionist told him to stop drinking sodas and shakes. 

Problem begins in public schools.  Lots of junk food provided by cafeteria and vending machines, and some kids bring it from home.  One girl having just French fries and milk.  Spurlock asks: "By having these in the lunch lines, are we setting up kids to make bad choices?"  36 grams of sugar in the Country Time lemonade, just as much as in soda.

Sodexho School Services: Provides lunch foods for over 400 public school districts.  Including Gatorade, candy, packaged sweets, pizza.  Barbara Brown, field representative: "We're hoping that through nutrition education, the students will learn to make the right choices, without restricting what they can purchase."

Another school district in WV: On federal school lunch program.  USDA sends bulk, frozen foods which are reheated and reconstituted.  Some lunches exceed 1000 calories.  Cook 6 out of 36 meals. 

One alternative school in WI had many behavioral problems.  Changed the lunch program: low-fat, low-sugar, chemical-free, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, no beef, no frying, fresh preparation, no candy or soda machines.  Costs just the same as the other food programs.  Students more focused and are calmer, performing better in the classroom. 

L.A. Unified School District just banned soda machines.  Quart jar shows how much sugar a student would previously eat in a week just by drinking soda. 

A McDonald's worker in Texas said that when she asks people if they want to super size it, most of them will say yes.  Texas has five of the top 15 fattest cities in America.

Top fifteen fattest cities in America (from 15 to 1): Miami, El Paso, Cleveland, Atlanta, Tulsa, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Columbus, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Houston.

Grocery Manufacturers of America: lobby group based in Washington, DC.  VP says one problem is that physical education isn't being taught as much in schools anymore.  Only one state (IL) has mandatory physical education classes.  One instructor says that the kids only have one phys. ed. period a week, for 45 minutes.  The Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of physical activity every day.  Some recess time (and physical and health education) is being cut because of the pressures of the No Child Left Behind policy. 

Alex (girlfriend) says that McDonald's diet is affecting their sex life.  He gets tired easily and he his performance isn't the same.

Nutritionist tells him he's getting less than 50% of the vitamins and minerals he needs.  All of his carbohydrates are refined carbohydrates (white flour, potatoes, sugar, corn syrup).  Only seven items on the McDonald's menu contain no sugar (even the salads have sugar). 

Day 17: He feels really good when he's eating, but otherwise, he feels tired and sluggish a lot.  His blood pressure is up and he's experiencing regular headaches (general practitioner says it's probably due to excess blood sugar: hyperinsulemic state).  Cholesterol up from 165 to 225.  Liver enzymes in the blood (increased ten-fold), indicating that something is wrong with the liver (probably fatty).  Liver failure could be the result of this. 

Addiction: It is possible to be addicted to food, as well.  Studies have shown that when chocolate lovers are given naloxone (which blocks the opiate receptors in the brain and is used for heroin overdose), they lose interest in the chocolate.  Spurlock says he feels great when eating the McDonald's food, but otherwise, feels sluggish.  The gastroenterologist says he might be getting addicted to it.  "McDonald's calls the people who eat at their restaurants at least once a week 'heavy users'É. 72% of their customers are heavy users." The] "super heavy users" eat their food at least three times a week.  22% of their customers are super heavy users.  Cheese includes casomorphins, which are opiates found in the cheese protein; cheese is included in many of their items.  Soda includes caffeine and sugar, both of which are addictive. 

One hundred nutritionists surveyed, in answer to the question of how often people should eat fast food: 2 said 2 times a week or more, 28 said once a week to once or twice a month, and 45 said you should never eat it.  "Ninety-five said it's a major contributor to the obesity epidemic sweeping America."

In America, "each year we spend over $30 billion on diet products and weight loss plans, 2 ½ times what we spent on fitness and health."  We try to lose weight in every way except through exercise.

Gastric bypass operation patient: his stomach will be reduced to the size of an apple.  75% of patients are able to stop taking hypertension medication following the surgery.  Obesity surgery is the only proven cure for diabetes.  The patient describes temporary blindness he experienced as a consequence of his diabetes.  He would drink 2 gallons of soda/day, sometimes 3-4. 

Day 21: Spurlock woke up unable to breathe, felt very hot, with heart palpitations.  Is experiencing chest pain.  General practitioner says his numbers are "absolutely outrageous."  High uric acid in the blood (hyperurecemia); the danger is kidney stones, gout.  "The results for your liver are obscene beyond anything I would have thought, truly."  Says he's "pickling his liver," comparable to what Nicolas Cage did with alcohol in "Leaving Las Vegas."  Tells him he has to stop this diet.  Cautions him to watch out for pains shooting down his arms, because that's life-threatening.  All three doctors worried and tell him to stop the diet.

Trying to schedule an interview with someone from McDonald's; called about 15 times. 

Family outside of the White House can't quite remember the Pledge of Allegiance, but they easily remember the Big Mac jingle ("Two all beef pattiesÉ). 

Walking up the stairs is now difficult, gets winded.

Final weigh-in: 210.  Gained 25 pounds in 30 days. 

Judge dismissed lawsuit against McDonald's saying that they failed to show that McDonald's foods caused their injuries.

In 30 days, his results: weight gain: 24 pounds; fat liver; cholesterol up 60 points to 230; body fat percentage from 11% to 18%; doubled his risk of coronary heart disease; "felt depressed and exhausted most of the time, my mood swung on a dime, and my sex life was non-existent."  "I craved this food more and more all the time and got massive headaches when I didn't."  All of his doctors said he should go back to a low-fat diet with exercise. 

Other changes: Some school districts in NY, CA, and TX have banned sugary sodas.  McDonald's created some new premium salads as a consequence and started sponsoring sports events; but at the same time they created the highest-calorie item ever: the McGriddle Sandwich (as much fat as a Big Mac and as much sugar as their cookies).  "In fact, their new premium Ranch Chicken Salad with dressing delivers more calories than a Big Mac and more fat, 71% of your daily fat intake."  In that one month, he consumed 30 pounds of sugar (one pound/day), plus 12 pounds of fat. 

Super size option: 42 ounces of soda, ½ pound of fries.

Aftermath: Took Spurlock 5 months to lose 20 pounds.  Gastric bypass patient lost 100 pounds and no longer has to take medication for high blood pressure or diabetes.  Detroit is now the fattest city in the U.S., but Texas added three more cities into the top 10 (Arlington 8, Forth Worth 6, San Antonio 4, Dallas 3, Houston 2).  Spurlock was asked to Super Size 9 times during the month (5 times in TX).  His vegan diet reduced his cholesterol and liver functions back to normal in 6 weeks.  "Six weeks after this movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald's announced they were eliminating Supersized options.  In May, they introduced the 'Go Active! Adult Happy Meal."