RWS 200, Section 36
16 April 2007
Obesity: Smoking‟s Rival Epidemic
Until recently, smoking has been considered one of the nation‟s top causes of death. Now,
however, obesity and unhealthy eating habits are running a close second with the idea that “the
Big Mac may eventually rival Big Tobacco as public health enemy No. 1” (Stern 63). The
harmful effects of an unhealthy diet are overlooked and misunderstood by many in the United
States, an issue that is clearly expressed by Morgan Spurlock‟s film Super Size Me, in which he
highlights many problems in American diets today.
Morgan Spurlock, director of the documentary Super Size Me (2004), asserts that the
fast food industry in the United States of America has been affecting the population unfavorably
and adding to the growing problem of obesity; fast-food advertising is becoming significantly
more aggressive in American society today, making avoidance of the industry more difficult
without proper information and knowledge; lunch programs are causing children to be less health
conscious when choosing meals and therefore children are developing unhealthy eating habits for
the future; while fast-food can cause many health problems, lawsuits against such fast-food
corporations will remain unsupported because of the vast numbers of these companies; and
ultimately the responsibility of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eating in moderation belongs
to the consumers, not the corporations or the government. Spurlock supports his argument about
the growing obesity epidemic by employing ethos and logos appeals: visiting numerous doctors
and nutritionists to obtain advice and information, showing a gastric bypass surgery, and
undergoing an extreme experimental diet; logos appeals: visiting junior high schools and stating
facts, evidence, and statistics in favor of his opinions; and pathos appeals: attempting to get his
viewers to connect emotionally with him, as he voluntarily consumes only McDonald‟s food for
an entire month, as well as with children and overweight adults, whose journeys he features in
his film. His purpose is to convince Americans to eat responsibly because too many people are
overweight and that this condition is partly caused by the immense consumption of fast food by
Americans. Spurlock attempts to help audiences see that their habits of eating and drinking
excessive amounts of fat and sugar are detrimental to their health and the health of their children.
In this essay I will discuss how the arguments expressed by Mary Story and Simone
French, Ira Emery Rodd, Keith Davis, and Adam Cohen modify, qualify, and complicate
Spurlock‟s claims regarding obesity in the United States. Also, I will describe how the ideas are
used in new ways by these different authors for their specific audiences and respective genres.
The ideas expressed by Mary Story, a professor of Human Nutrition Sciences at
Florida State University, and Simone French, professor and co-director of the Obesity Prevention
Center at the University of Minnesota, in “Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children
and Adolescents in the US,” qualify the claims that Spurlock makes in his film Super Size Me.
Spurlock demonstrates that children he interviews are more informed of marketing gimmicks for
fast-food corporations than with our country‟s history or a given religion. This segment of the
film shows how ill informed and impressionable the youth are to the advertising used by various
corporations. Story and French state that because of this aggressive advertising, children “[1)]
will choose advertised food products at significantly higher rates than children who were not
exposed; 2)...[increase] the number of attempts children make to influence food purchases their
parents buy; 3) [make] purchase requests for specific brands or categories of food products.”
Story and French advocate the idea that children are easily influenced by many of the advertising
tactics that surround them daily and that these tactics are forming unfavorable purchasing and
eating habits. The considerable effects of the media advertising on adolescents shows the
significance of the fast-food industry in the United States, further validating Spurlock‟s claims.
Ira Emery Rodd‟s “McLUNCHROOMS!” and Keith Davis‟s “The Case for and Against
Business Assumption of Social Responsibilities” complicate Spurlock‟s claims against a school
integrating a fast-food endorsed lunch program because both provide legitimate reasons for and
against incorporating such a system. First, Rodd states that “the new meals fall below federal
nutrition standards;” therefore, the school foregoes some benefits of being a member of the
federal government‟s National School Lunch Program, such as reduced-cost meals for students
coming from low-income households. This argument supports Spurlock‟s idea that school lunch
programs in the United States should be better regulated to ensure that adolescents are aware of
the effects of an unhealthy diet and are capable of making nutritious choices. Conversely, Davis
elaborates on economist Paul A. Samuelson‟s idea that large corporations should remain active
in supporting social responsibilities. One reason a corporation may do this is in the hopes of
improving its public image; if a corporation were to support various public priorities, such as a
school and its lunch program, then it would further its public impression. This concept is shown
during the epilogue of the film when Spurlock explains how McDonald‟s began “sponsoring
events that showed how health conscious they‟d become” and eliminated the supersized options.
Finally, the claims of Adam Cohen, assistant editor of the New York Times Editorial
Board, lawyer, and author, in his article “Editorial Observer; The McNugget Truth in the
Lawsuits Against Fast-Food Restaurants,” complicate and modify Spurlock‟s ideas expressed in
his film Super Size Me. Cohen begins his article in a tone that seems to support the views of
Ashley Pelman and Jazyln Bradley, the two girls blaming McDonald‟s for their health problems,
by quoting the Judge‟s idea that the McNugget is a “McFrankenstein creation.” However, he
quickly switches his apparent bias in favor of the McDonald‟s corporation citing “an industry
spokesman [that] has thrown the blame right back on customers, saying that „anyone with an I.Q.
higher than room temperature will understand that excessive consumption of food served in fast-
food restaurants will lead to weight gain.‟” By explaining the arguments of both sides of the
lawsuit, Cohen complicates Spurlock‟s claims; however, Cohen later goes on to inform his
readers that the judge of the lawsuit assisted the girls by telling them that “it is O.K. to sell
unhealthy food. But when an item is substantially less healthy than it appears, a seller may be
held liable for the resulting harm” so that the lawsuit can be altered and probably more
successful in the future. This modifies Spurlock‟s claim that lawsuits against the fast-food
companies will most likely remain unsupported by the legal system because Cohen described a
method that can be used to grant support to the consumer and help resolve the problem of lack of
information, by hopefully requiring McDonald‟s to provide nutrition facts in a manner more
easily understood in the future.
By understanding how the ideas of Mary Story and Simone French, Ira Emery Rodd, Keith
Davis, and Adam Cohen modify, qualify, and complicate Spurlock‟s claims regarding obesity,
the viewer can begin to compile his or her own opinions about why unhealthy diets and obesity
in the United States are taking so many lives and what should be done to stop the growing
problem. Furthermore, by comprehending each author‟s respective audience, strategy, and
discipline, the viewer can interpret the new forms of traditional ideas concerning unhealthy
eating habits. Obesity is an epidemic in the United States, currently rivaling smoking, that could
be better understood and possibly avoided if the American public were more aware of the
damaging effects of unhealthy eating, more knowledgeable about food consumption, and less
captivated by aggressive advertising campaigns.
Cohen, Adam. “Editorial Observer; The McNugget of Truth in the Lawsuits Against
Fast-Food Restaurants.” New York Times February 3, 2003.
Davis, Keith. "The Case for and Against Business Assumption of Corporate
Responsibility." Academy of Management Journal 16 (1973): 312-22. 8 April 2007.
French, Simone and Story, Mary. “Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children
and Adolescents in the US.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and
Physical Activity 1:3 (2004) 8 April 2007 <http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/1/1/3/>
Rodd, Ira E. "McLUNCHROOMS!" RWS 200 Reader. San Diego: Montezuma, 2006.
Stern, Seth. “Fast-Food Restaurants Face Legal Grilling.” RWS 200 Reader. San Diego:
Montezuma, 2006. 63-65.
Super Size Me. Dir. Morgan Spurlock. Perf. Morgan Spurlock. DVD. Roadside