In Supersize Me, film school dropout Morgan Spurlock argues via a month-long self-experimentation with a McDonald’s diet, that the food choices at this international fast food chain are inherently unhealthy. This, he maintains, is the fundamental contributor to an obesity epidemic in the United States. However, Spurlock’s claim obscures some of the social forces which also contribute to this mass fattening. While he does give some room to articulate these factors, they are not the core focus of his film, and exist solely to backup his conclusion that society should start holding fast food companies accountable for their menus.
The reality missing here is that the blame for health problems should not lie solely with fast food, but rather, food consumption is a matter of personal responsibility. In fairness, culpability lies with fast food companies in matters beyond the nutritional value of their food. While opposing critics of fast food witch hunts would declare that personal choices are what contribute to a fast food company’s ability to keep selling unhealthy meals, the fast food companies also have a larger social responsibility with regards to their marketing practices. The perception generated by advertising undeniably influences consumer decisions somewhat.
Schlosser (54-56) notes that fast food advertising’s most problematic area is in its targeting of children through partnerships with sporting leagues, toy companies and school cafeterias. Through such partnerships, fast food is able to gain casual acceptance among children as a way of dining, as well as affiliate itself with notions of health, education and leisure. Strutt (9) notes that in Western Australia, the local health promotion authority, Healthway, has recognized the hypocrisy in allowing children’s sporting events to be sponsored by companies representing fast food, soft drinks and candy.
As such, they have begun to enforce tougher rules regarding the food available at junior sporting venues and banning companies from promoting fast food at such events. Such measures follow a year of massive sponsorship from fast food, et al last year. Jenn Morris remarked that as a health promotion authority, Healthway cannot associate itself with unhealthy products; for promoting a message of healthy eating alongside junk food sponsorship ultimately weakens that message. In effect, they have recognized society’s collective fault in being complicit with the promotion of fast food.
On the individual level, responsibility for the effects of these fast food times also lies with personal habits. Harper (20-22) notes that the increasingly sedentary habits in modern living means that children lack do not benefit from healthy exercise that can stymie excessive calorie intake. Harper recommends brief but diverse sets of hydraulic exercise to improve muscle development and circulatory health, as opposed to the competitive body-shaping paradigm of weightlifting, with child-safe levels of physical exertion.
Furthermore, such exercises are an investment that would comfortably habituate such children to the notion of exercise. Simply put, society should recognize that while fast food does bear great fault for the unhealthy state of children across the developed world, an ability to harness responsibility to develop a better lifestyle and a healthier psychical relationship with physical development. After all, fast food companies cannot be expected to develop social responsibility with any level of trustworthiness if it compromises their bottom line.
Personal responsibility is the only weapon we have against poor health, not just for what we put in our bodies but how we develop them.
Super Size Me. Dir. Morgan Spurlock. 2004. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2004. Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York: Houghton-Miffin, 2001. Strutt, Jessica. “Attack on Junk Food Sponsors. ” NutriDate, Vol. 19, No. 4. August 2008. Harper, Symanthia. “Their Future Depends on Us. ” American Fitness. May/June 2008.