When filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decided to eat nothing but McDonald's for 30 days for his movie Super Size Me, his health deteriorated more than anyone expected. Now he is urging schools to help steer kids away from fast food, through more healthful lunch choices. Included: Tips for eliminating junk food from schools.
Eating nothing but McDonald's food for three meals a day sounds like an American kid's dream; a fast-food feeding frenzy, where the next french fry is as close as the next meal.
But filmmaker Morgan Spurlock showed in his Academy Award-nominated documentary Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Proportions just how damaging a McDiet could be. The film chronicles the effects on Spurlock of eating McDonald's food for three meals a day for 30 days, with little or no exercise. Long before the month was up, Spurlock's physical and emotional health deteriorated, as his blood pressure and cholesterol levels soared and the fat content in his liver became dangerously high. At the end of 30 days, he'd gained 25 pounds.
"He's a gentleman who has swallowed the American diet at the risk of his own life," said Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, who introduced Spurlock as the guest speaker at a forum on child obesity held in Hartford, Connecticut.
The film also examines the broader issue of obesity in America, the growing number of obese children, and includes segments from U.S. school cafeterias where students could choose from among french fries, ice cream, and cookies for lunch -- and that's all some ate. Any classroom lessons about healthful eating were contradicted by the selections on the lunch menu, he suggested.
Spurlock also is working on a "family-friendly" version of Super Size Me for distribution in U.S. schools that will include lesson plans and other materials.
The filmmaker/director talked with Education World about his concerns about childhood obesity and the need for schools to eliminate high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages from their cafeterias and offer more healthful lunch choices.
Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock on one of his many drive-through
(Photo from ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS/SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMS)
Morgan Spurlock: I think the school lunches were the most important part of the movie. We are teaching kids to be obese. We're eliminating health classes, physical education, recessand it's like they're eating lunch in a 7-11. It's frightening.
We teach kids in the classroom and abandon them in the lunchroom. In one school kids could buy candy, soda, potato chips, or french fries for lunch. One girl bought three cookies and a lemonade. That was lunch. One school had a big table with Ring Dings and Ho Hos and honey buns.
Kids see chicken nuggets, french fries, and pizza at school and think it's okay to eat this food every day. They think it's okay not to exercise every day, because schools are cutting PE and recess.
EW:What approach should schools take regarding lunch options?
Spurlock: Educators say kids need to learn to make good choices. But the places where they need to make them are right outside the door. We say teachers act as surrogate parents. Then act as surrogate parentsshouldn't we be around kids to help them make good choices?
My mother cooked dinner every night. I would come home from school and she never said to me, "Morgan, what would you like for dinner? Would you like broccoli or ice cream? You have to learn to make good choices." A parent wouldn't do that.
EW:What can schools do to set better examples about healthful eating?
Spurlock: Some schools are saying, "We're not going to do this [sell high-fat foods] anymore." They are making better choices available in the lunchroom, eliminating [candy and junk food] vending machines, and it hasn't cost them an extra dime. School districts thinking about doing this should talk to other districts to see how they implemented this.
EW:What do you think about the proposal in some districts and states to include information about students' weight on report cards?
Spurlock: The last thing I want is for kids to feel demonized by something that is not their fault -- I don't want children to feel even worse because of the way they look. But if this helps to educate kids and parents, great.
EW:Why do you think childhood obesity is such a hot topic now?
Spurlock: I think before the film came out [in 2002], there was a lot in the news about obesity in America, but that got sidetracked a little by the war and other things going on. Now that's eased a bit, and people are asking what they can do at home, and thinking about what they can do to improve their environment.
This e-interview with Morgan Spurlock is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.