How ‘Super Size Me’ changed the world

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The majority of people don’t need a documentary to tell them that eating fast food on a regular basis is hardly the ideal way to live a full and healthy life, but Super Size Me still managed to make an impact while stating the abundantly obvious.

Writer, director, star, and subject Morgan Spurlock set out to survive on nothing but McDonald’s food for an entire month. On paper, it’s not the greatest or most sensible of ideas, but the effects were significantly more startling than anyone could have anticipated, perhaps with the exception of the company’s executives who watched on agonisingly as their brand took a kicking.

Before his experiment, Spurlock had a personal trainer and is credited as being an average physical specimen. Along with his PT, he sees a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and a GP before embarking on his fast food odyssey. None of them were expecting particularly drastic results, but that’s what happened regardless.

Eating three meals a day and nothing that isn’t available at McDonald’s – including bottled water – Spurlock sought to counteract his calorie intake by walking the 5,000 steps per day deemed to be the average amount covered by the standard American over a 24-hour period.

By the time it’s over, he’s gained 24 pounds, started experiencing symptoms of depression, suffered from lethargy and headaches, lost muscle mass, found a dwindling in his sex drive, according to his girlfriend, and was compared to Nicolas Cage drinking himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas by a doctor after continuing on his quest in the face of heart palpitations.

It’s easy to say that scoffing nothing but McDonald’s for a month is hardly going to yield positive results, but neither is it a coincidence the ‘Go Active’ menu with healthier items was rolled out nationwide the very day before Super Size Me premiered.

After the documentary became a word-of-mouth hit and Academy Award nominee, McDonald’s profits dropped in the following financial year, while sales of larger fast food meals and sweet treats noticeably dwindled. Several chains even dropped the option to super-size completely, and the awareness raised by Spurlock’s film shone a new light on just how unhealthy fast food really was.

As a result, nutritional information was more readily available post-Super Size Me than it had ever been, salt content was actively lowered among the foodstuffs offered by many fast food behemoths, salads became more prevalent and heavily marketed as menu options, while the federal Food and Drug Administration stepped in to inform the majority of chains their portion sizes needed to be reduced.

It hardly marked an instantaneous and overwhelming sea change – and did little in the grand scheme of things to stem the obesity epidemic – but Super Size Me still managed to have a profound and drastic effect on the fast food industry, which began with something as stupid and simple as relying on nothing but McDonald’s for sustenance.

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