The interesting thing about this specific documentary is the depth of impact that it had on social behaviors. While the movie was being filmed, McDonald’s got wind of the experiment, because Spurlock told them and invited them to take part in the documentary. McDonald’s declined to be a part of the movie, but did take “super sizing” off the menu. This is an interesting look at social behavior in many ways. The term super-size has become a part of the national lexicon, even though the trademark holder stopped using it.
The sizes of the food did not change, but the words did in an attempt to counterattack the impact they anticipated the movie would have on social behavior. The buzz about the documentary focused intense scrutiny on the McDonald’s menu and the company responded proactively, hoping to try to counteract it. Before the movie was filmed, restaurants were supposed to have a nutritional guide available to patrons, but often these were hard to read charts tucked away in the corner.
After the movie, to create an appearance of openness, McDonald’s and most other fast food chains created nicely designed brochures and an attractive information station to distribute these brochures. Spurlock had claimed that most people did not know how to read the nutritional brochures and that they were also just a means for the company to pander to government regulations without actually telling people the effects that their product would have on their overall health.
The nutritional guides, he pointed out, talk about the caloric content of the individual pieces of a meal and mention the percentage of the recommended daily allowance of various vitamins and minerals, but never address the idea of an entire meal made of the food. They never point out that super-size orders of fries are actually several servings and that the nutrition guide lists the calorie and other information for a single serving.
This is especially true in dealing with the drinks often at least four times the size of a normal 8-ounce serving. The other impact that the documentary had immediately was to create a move by McDonald’s to make their menu healthier. The chain added salads and grilled chicken to its menu, switched to all white meat in the chicken nuggets, began offering applies as a side dish in Happy Meals, and generally tried to make the menu appear less unhealthy than it had before.
Unfortunately, since most of these changes took effect after the movie was released, the average consumer has to rely on his own practical understanding to read the nutritional guides and discover that many of McDonald’s so-called healthy options are illusory at beast, with the salads often having several hundred calories and high fat percentages. In addition, the apple added as an option for Happy Meals come with a caramel dipping sauce, making them more appealing, but still far too unhealthy to be part of a regular meal plan.
The affect on social behavior that Spurlock intended to create with his documentary was to get people to think more about their lifestyle habits. Though he specifically singled out McDonald’s, several other fast food chains could easily have been used and likely would have had similar, if not possible worse, results. Spurlock’s intention was never to attack McDonald’s itself, but rather to raise awareness of the dangers of eating a diet that relies strictly on fast food and to assess the damages that it can do.
By the time the documentary was done, his cholesterol levels had risen and his triglycerides were at such unsafe levels that his doctors begged him to stop the experiment early. Though none of the doctors or Spurlock expected the health evidence to be so vivid, this was the first of his goals regarding social behaviors. He wanted viewers to understand the link between the foods we eat and our general health. Specifically, he wanted people to understand that there is more to nutrition than just the food pyramid.
The second goal of changing behavior that Spurlock is promoting is perhaps most evident at the end of the movie when he is discussing the steps he took to help his body recover from the month of McDonald’s. He says that he is eating many vegetarian meals cooked at home by his girlfriend, showing his desire to promote the idea that people should eat a more balance diet. He even points out that McDonald’s has only potatoes and salad on its menu as vegetable options even though the USDA recommends that people eat 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Fruit could, at the time, only be found in the juice available in the mornings. In his weight loss regiment, he discusses how much he enjoys being able to enjoy fruits and vegetables again and eat foods prepared in a means other than fried. Spurlock’s final goal for changing social behavior via his documentary is also most evident at the end of the movie when he talks about the time spent with a personal trainer to work off the weight he gained during the experiment.
Earlier in the film, Spurlock also discusses the lack of exercise most Americans get and emphasizes his point by taking a cab to the McDonald’s a block away. This desire to encourage people to make a choice to be more active is the final branch of his three-pronged attempt at changing social behavior. Spurlock preaches the gospel of healthy living by showing in vivid detail the results of the alternative.
Spurlock, Morgan. “Super Size Me” (2004) Kathbur Pictures, Canada.