If you’ve ever seen the film “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock, the documentary’s star and director, embarks on a month-long experiment to discover the adverse health effects of consuming a diet composed entirely of items from the menu at McDonald’s. Spurlock decided to investigate whether or not eating only foods from McDonald’s would cause him any ill effects on his health because he had seen a news story about two teens who had sued McDonald’s because they claimed that McDonald’s food made them obese. The suit was later thrown out of court by a judge who ruled that it was “not the place of the law to protect [the plaintiffs] from their own excesses.”
Spurlock begins the experiment in excellent health–his cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose levels are all normal. Spurlock imposed several guidelines for conducting his experiment, which were:
- He had to eat three full McDonald’s meals each day during the 30 days.
- He had to sample everything on the menu at McDonald’s. No other foods or drink were allowed.
- He had to “Super Size” his meal if the option was offered to him.
- He could only walk 5,000 steps daily. This is the number of steps the average American walks in a day. Spurlock’s normal step count before the experiment was in upward of 15,000 steps a day, as he lived in Manhattan at the time of filming and walked everywhere he went. For reference, 5,000 steps is equal to roughly 2 miles.
Over the course of his 3 McMeals a day diet, however, Spurlock gained 25 pounds, developed depression and fatty liver damage equivalent to that of an alcoholic. It took him over a year to lose the weight he had gained during the course of the one month experiment. After the film “Super Size Me” was released, several other people conducted similar experiments–both controlled and uncontrolled–but with very different results.
Now a study conducted by biologists at Linkoping University in Sweden has revealed that eating fast food even twice a day contributes to an elevated level of insulin resistance, a precursor and indicator of type II diabetes. Subjects in the study were in good health and had BMI’s in the healthy range for their age and height. Once the experiment began, they were asked to consume two meals at a fast-food restaurant, as well as restrict their exercise to only 5,000 steps of walking a day. At the end of their fast food bender, a sample of the subjects’ fat cells was taken and studied to determine if insulin resistance had developed, which it had.
This is significant for several reasons. First, billions of dollars are spent marketing fast foods to children, whose parents often opt to feed them fast food because of the cost and convenience. Unfortunately, though, our physiology has not kept up with our fast-paced lives–here, evolution is working against us, not with or for us. Second, because we are in a global recession, and healthy food costs more, people are more likely to turn to fast food for a plentiful and cheap source of food. Third, as the rate of childhood obesity and its consequent poor effects on health skyrocket, the public should be aware of studies such as the Linkoping study and others like it. There are a great many things that are affected by the fast food industry, the health of the public and the economy being the two biggest.
How can the results of such studies be communicated to the public in a way they will understand? What ill health effects across socioeconomic lines will fast food diets have on the population? How will this affect the nation’s healthcare system now and in the future? Can people ever be completely weaned off of fast food, and would this be a smart move economically?