Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film Clips!                                         

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This lesson plan is being revised but is suitable for use in its current state.


Student Handout

Discussion Questions

Homework Assignment/Open Book Test


One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Health, High School Level.

Educationally Enhanced Version: Age: 11+; MPAA Rating -- PG for thematic elements, a disturbing medical procedure, and some language; Documentary; 2005; 100 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

Description of the Movie: Morgan Spurlock ate only food from McDonald's for 30 days: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He was thoroughly tested by doctors before he started his "diet" and periodically tested throughout the 30 days. By the end of his experiment, the changes in his blood chemistry and the stress on his organs approximated the liver failure seen in advanced alcoholics; his cholesterol had risen to dangerous levels; and he had gained 24 lbs.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Super Size Me provides a humorous way to introduce some serious and important subjects: the dangers of convenience food, the obesity epidemic, and the effects of advertising on consumer choices.

Objectives/Student Outcomes: Through reading, class discussion, research and writing assignments, student in will learn important facts about convenience food and the obesity epidemic. The will explore the issues of personal responsibility and the power of marketing tools over consumers in modern society.

Possible Problems: None. Some profanity and one reference to the effect of the diet on Spurlock's sexual performance which were in the original film have been removed from the educational version.

"The Fastfood Supper" by Jacob Thompson
This Lesson Plan consists of:

  • a handout in word processing format to be given to students as homework or to be read in class after they have seen the film;
  • suggested points to make in a very short lecture after the film (these points can also be worked into the class discussion);
  • discussion questions to raise in class (with suggested points to cover);
  • a homework assignment (also available in word processing format); and
  • an answer key for the homework assignment.

The handout and the test can be changed or supplemented to meet the needs of the class. Together with the movie, the lesson plan will take approximately five 55 minute class periods. The handout will be periodically updated as new data becomes available.

The case against fast food, soft drinks, snack foods, and frozen meals is clear and compelling. Their nutritional value is limited and they contribute to unhealthy weights and obesity, which sicken and kill millions every year. The question is how to get kids to understand this and to at least moderate their consumption. This Lesson Plan seeks to further that goal.



Convenience food means fast food, soft drinks, snack foods, TV dinners, and the already-prepared foods we can buy in the store. It's supposed to be cheap, make our lives easier, and taste good. But there's a hidden cost: it often ends up hurting our health.

The Obesity Epidemic

There is a worldwide epidemic of obesity and the U.S. is leading the way. The CDC reports that 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents, 219 years of age, are obese (2007/2008 figures). Source: Obesity rates among all children in the United States (Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.) The rate of obesity is increasing. Between 1988 1994 and 2007-2008, the increase in obesity was 5% among white boys, 9% among non-Hispanic black boys and 12,7% for Hispanic boys. For girls it wasn't much better, except for Hispanic girls where the increase was 4%. The increase over the same period was 5.5% for white girls and13% for non-Hispanic black girls. Source Prevalence of Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963-1965 Through 2007-2008 by Cynthia Ogden, Ph.D., and Margaret Carroll, M.S.P.H., Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys

2007/2008 figures show that 34% of American adults are obese and another 34% are overweight. This means that 68% of Americans have a weight problem. Source: CDC FastStats-Obesity and Overweight .

Except for some small islands in the Pacific, America is the fattest country on Earth. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser. P. 4 (hereafter "Critser").

Obesity increases the risk of having about 30 serious illnesses including: diabetes (Type 2); several cancers such as cancer of the uterus, breast, colon, esophagus, and bladder; cardiovascular disease; osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint); dyslipidemia (high total cholesterol); hypertension; stroke; sleep apnea and respiratory problems; urinary stress incontinence; impaired immune response; liver disease; gallbladder disease; renal disease; menstrual disturbance; and pancreatitis. Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences from the Centers for Disease Control and Fact Sheet on Health Effects of Obesity from the American Obesity Association. A child who is ten years old and diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can expect to lose 17 to 26 years of his or her life.

Being obese does much more than cause early and needless death: it restricts our lifestyle. Fat people don't get out as much as other people, they don't have as much fun, and they are not seen as attractive. Obesity is an indicator of low self-esteem, poor social adjustment, and depression. If you're overweight as a child, you're already most of the way to being obese as an adult.

Why are we getting fatter? As Mr. Spurlock says in Don't Eat This Book at page 16:

* We are eating more food than ever before -- way more.

* We are eating more food that's bad for us -- way more.

* And we are getting less physical exercise -- way less.

Agribusiness in the U.S. became extremely efficient over the last 40 years. It now produces about 3800 calories a day per person. The problem is that each of us should consume only about 1600 to 2800 (2200 for teenage girls and 2800 for teenage boys). What's the best way for agribusiness to sell its surplus calories? Get people to eat more. (By the way, a calorie is a unit of energy. It is the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree centigrade. We use the calories we eat to power our bodies. Calories we don't use turn to fat.)

It used to be that people didn't snack or snacked much less than they do now. It's hard to snack when you're in the field or the factory performing strenuous physical labor 12 hours a day. Now we have a whole new type of food, called snack food: potato chips (plain, barbecue flavored, or with salt and vinegar), corn chips, bagel bites, donut holes, etc. This is an entire segment of the convenience food industry focused on getting us to eat a lot of food that's really bad for us and that we don't need.

In addition, we eat out much more often than before. Having a meal at a restaurant (including a fast food restaurant) used to be a special occasion reserved for once a month. Now, many people eat out or take restaurant food home four and five times a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Americans eat 40% of their meals in restaurants of one kind or another.

Restaurant meals have gotten much bigger. Here's how that happened. Every business wants people to buy their high markup items. (Markup is the amount added to the cost of goods sold in a store or restaurant so that the owner can make a profit. Another way to say it is that markup is the difference between the cost and the selling price.) High markup items are where the big profits are. The auto companies push SUV sales even though they know the cars are bad for the environment and increase our dependence on foreign oil. They push SUV sales even though they know that when gas prices go up, as they inevitably will, their customers will suffer. This is because the markup on SUVs is much greater than the markup on smaller, more gas efficient cars.

A few decades ago the movie theater industry did something very creative with its highest markup item, popcorn. (Think about how many kernels of corn it takes to pop up a box and then think about how much you pay for it. That's high markup.) To increase sales, theater owners tried two-for-one specials, discounts, matinee specials, and combining popcorn with other foods. Nothing worked. Then an executive figured that if he increased the size of the box but charged just a little more, people would believe they were getting a great deal and they'd buy more boxes of popcorn. The cost of the additional popcorn was trivial. Sales of boxes of popcorn went up and, in addition, people bought more soda, another high markup item.

After his success in the theater business, this same executive went to work for McDonald's. Instead of two burgers, McDonald's started to offer a Big Mac for a little more than the price of a regular hamburger. People thought they were getting a great deal and bought more ... and ate more. We now have the Whopper, the Big Gulp and thousands of other extra large-sized products throughout the fast food industry designed to get us to buy more by offering us a better value. Critser, pp. 20 - 22.

Now this is a great deal for the consumer if you only count what you pay for the food. But the hidden cost, the health effects, are devastating. The poster child for this process is the French fry. The markup on French fries sold by fast food chains is 20 times the cost of buying the potatoes and making them into fries. (If the restaurant pays a dollar to buy the potatoes and make the fries, it takes in twenty from the customer!) Chew on This by Schlosser & Wilson, p. 97 (hereafter "Schlosser & Wilson"). Back in 1960, McDonald's offered regular French fries at 200 calories a serving. As the years went by, you could order French fries in larger and larger servings: 320 calories in the late 1970s, 450 calories in the early 1990s, and 540 calories in the late 1990s. Now you can buy a single serving of fries that is 610 calories. That's more than a threefold increase. Critser, p. 28 and Super Size Me. And French fries are selling like crazy. Not only are people getting fat, they're also eating too much salt. (The same effect can be seen in the size of the sandwiches and the size of the soft drinks. At just about any fast food restaurant you can buy a 16 fluid ounce ("fl. oz.") size with 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar. For just a little more you can get a 21 fl. oz. size with 210 calories with 58 grams of sugar. A really good bargain is the 32 fl. oz. size with 310 calories and 86 grams of sugar. But the super-bargain is the 42 fl. oz. size with 410 calories and 113 grams of sugar. Source: "Super Size Me". But these bargains don't count all the sugar and salt that is in these drinks. They cost our bodies dearly.)

Then there was the McDonald's PR man who was a prime mover in the launch of Ronald McDonald, a device to fix brand loyalty when children are young and cannot reason. He decided to buy some McDonald's franchises for himself but he got caught in an economic recession when fewer people were going to fast food restaurants. He had the idea that if he could package some of the low markup burgers with the high markup soft drinks and fries, for what people thought was a lower cost, sales might increase. Well, they do, because people believe they're getting a good deal. (It's not only McDonald's executives who have pioneered marketing innovations, all the fast food chains do it, as often as they can.) And so, thanks to marketing executives in the food industry we have "value meals" and "super sizing" which allow us to eat ourselves into obesity, inexpensively. Critser, pp. 22 - 27.

Psychologists tell us what happens when the dinner plate comes with more food than we need. We eat more -- up to 30% more. Critser pp. 27 & 28. The result is that when we go to restaurants, which we do more and more often, most of us eat more than we need. When we are at home we eat high caloric snacks or convenience foods. Remember, our bodies were set up to survive in the food-scarce world of the hunter-gatherer. We are programmed to eat a lot in times of plenty to protect against the coming days when there won't be enough food. Except that in the developed countries, with the advent of modern agriculture, only the extremely poor experience times when they can't get enough to eat. Result: we eat and eat and get fatter and fatter.

The large sizing and value meal concepts aren't just confined to fast food restaurants. Most restaurant portions are too large to finish comfortably. The food served by a restaurant is a small part of its expenses, so super sizing costs the restaurant just a little more. But the customers, responding to the "great deal" light going off in their heads, buy more units to take advantage of the great deal. While the restaurant makes more money, the customer eats all this food and gains weight. (Sharing a meal is a great way to beat the system. Just remember to tip the waiter or waitress as if you'd bought two meals. You don't want to hurt the working people when you're trying to outsmart the restaurant owners!)

So, what's the big deal about a few hundred extra calories at a meal at a restaurant? Well, if you eat 40% of your meals out, that's 11 meals (.4 x 21 (3 meals a day 7 days a week) = 8.4 meals.) Do the numbers from your own experience. How many times did you eat restaurant food last week, either at the restaurant or take out? Well, 300 to 500 extra calories 8 times a week (or even five times a week) over a year is a lot of added weight. The same marketing logic holds true for the convenience foods we take home from the store. Bigger and cheaper often sells more. So, we get slammed again when we eat convenience food at home. And then there's snack food. An extra bag of chips every few days adds up to a lot of calories over the course of a year.

Obesity has a number of definitions, but the most common is that people are obese when 20% of their body weight is made up of fat. To determine if a person is at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese, scientists use the Body Mass Index (BMI for short). This compares our weight to our height. To figure out the BMI for a teenager use the following formula: first figure your weight in pounds and multiply it by the number 703. Then divide that by your height in inches squared.

BMI = weight X 703

A BMI of 18.5 to 25 indicates a healthy weight. A BMI of 25 to 30 means that a person is overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is reserved for the obese.
Healthy            BMI 18.5 - 25
Overweight     BMI 25 - 30
Obese             BMI above 30
Thus if a person is 5 feet 9.5 inches tall and he weighed 193 pounds, his BMI would be 193 X 703/69.52. This equals 135,679/4830 = 28.09; seriously overweight but not obese. Calculate your own BMI on a piece of paper and bring it to the next class. BMI Body Mass Index: About BMI for Children and Teens from the CDC. This site will also automatically calculate BMI for you.

In addition, along with the un-healthy aspect of being overweight or obese, there are the negative stereotypes, including the harsh realities of being overweight in the workplace. For instance, according to one commentator discrimination against the obese in the workplace affects both men and women leading to lower wages and less opportunity for advancement. And of course, what we eat directly contributes to this problem. Source: "Glutton Intolerance What if a war on obesity only makes the problem worse?" Slate.com, 10/5/2009, accessed on May 14, 2011.

Kill Burger

Ersatz Food

"Fast food may look like the sort of food people have always eaten, but it's fundamentally different. It's not the kind of food you can make in your kitchen from scratch. Fast food is something radically new. Indeed, the food we eat has changed more during the past thirty years than during the previous thirty thousand years." Schlosser & Wilson p. 11

The word "ersatz" means something fake, something that's not the genuine article. It comes from a German word that means "replacement". Convenience food often consists of man-made replacements for what is normally in food. It's "ersatz" food. There is a simple reason for this. It has to be modified to be easy to transport and cook. So it's almost always frozen, dehydrated or canned. This pulls most of the flavor, the color, and some important nutrients out of the food. No one would buy it unless the convenience food companies made it look like it used to look and taste good.

Let's start with flavor. French fries are a good example. Nowadays, most French fries come to the restaurant frozen. Frozen foods, especially vegetables, usually lose their taste. When food is fried, its taste is largely determined by the flavor of the fat it is fried in. McDonald's fries are reputed to be the best in the world. Originally, they were fried in 93% beef fat. It was the taste of the beef fat which made them so popular. The problem is that the fat saturates the fries and instead of eating a plant with little cholesterol, McDonald's customers were eating beef fat that contained a lot of cholesterol. In the early 1990s, after heavy criticism for contributing to the deaths of its customers with cholesterol from the fries, McDonald's started using vegetable oil. However, the fries didn't have that meaty taste that everyone liked so much. So McDonald's turned to the "flavorologists."

Flavorologists are highly trained chemists who are very sensitive to smell and taste. These people are experts in mixing up a batch of chemicals that will smell and taste like the real thing. To make drinks taste like grape they add methyl anthranilate. To make popcorn taste like popcorn, they add methyl-2-peridylketone. For marshmallows it's ethyl-3-hydroxybutanoate. Amyl acetate simulates the taste of real bananas. Flavorologists mix the chemicals like a complicated recipe. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, pp. 119 - 129 (hereafter "Schlosser"). When the flavor is removed from food because it's frozen, canned, sits on a shelf for years, or the frying oil is changed, the flavorologist finds a chemical replacement for the taste of the food.

The flavor industry is a multi-billion dollar industry of people walking around in white lab coats making the taste of our food. The convenience food industry is its biggest client. Flavorologists give the taste not only to the fries, but the hamburgers, the breads, the milkshakes, the ice cream . . . you name it. If it's processed food, it's likely to have specially designed flavors in it.

That "nature's bounty" taste usually doesn't come from just one chemical or even two or three. The flavorologists commonly use a cocktail of chemicals. It gets very complicated. At one point (and it may still be true today) the flavors in a Burger King strawberry "milkshake" were:
amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, g-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.
Where'd the strawberries go? Well, they're not in the "milkshake". List of ingredients from Schlosser p. 125.

Some labels say the flavor is "artificial" and sometimes the flavor is described as "natura.l" There's very little difference. All this refers to is the origins of the chemicals used to make the flavor. If they're cooked up in the laboratory, they are called "artificial." If the chemicals are extracted in the laboratory from some substance growing in a plant or an animal, the flavor is called "natural." But whatever the source of the chemicals that flavor so much of our food, they aren't the real thing. They're "ersatz."

Now let's look at color. The color of convenience food is often artificial as well. Canning, freezing, and drying change the color of foods. Artificial color can give them that fresh-from-the-field look. Many of the same companies that manufacture flavors also manufacture color additives. Some of these colors come from strange places. Cochineal, which is used for red or pink color, comes from bugs that live in Peru and the Canary Islands, ground up and, hopefully, sterilized.

Are the nutrients replaced? (Are you kidding?) As for the nutrients that are lost by freezing, drying, canning, and other processes designed to allow food to be packaged, transported, sit in the warehouse, and then in the store or restaurant ... they are seldom replaced. Many nutrients in the food survive, but the vitamins and phytochemicals, those unique substances needed for health, often do not.

So with most convenience foods the taste is replaced, the color is replaced ... it's "ersatz." Look on the label. If it says flavors added and color added, that's what you're getting. But there's more to the "ersatz" story, and that's when the food companies start chemically altering food to make replacements for sugar and fat that are less expensive or extend shelf life, and then put them in food. We'll get there.

Additives and Contaminants

What about all those artificial flavors, artificial colorings, and the preservatives? Are they safe? We know that in some people artificial food colors cause allergies, asthma, and hyperactivity. They are also possible carcinogens. Nitrites and bitrates (found often in processed meats) can develop into potential carcinogens called nitrosamines. Sulfites (sulfur dioxide, metabisulfites, and others which are used as preservatives) cause allergic and asthmatic reactions in some people. Artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Saccharin) can cause hyperactivity, allergies, and they are possible carcinogens in long-term use. MSG (monosodium glutamate) often causes allergic and behavioral reactions, including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression, and mood swings. It is also a possible neurotoxin. Preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and EDTA cause allergic reactions and hyperactivity. Again, there are concerns that they cause cancer with long-term use. BHT may be toxic to the nervous system and the liver. Artificial flavors can cause allergic or behavioral reactions. Olestra (an artificial fat) causes diarrhea and digestive disturbances in some people. Excerpts from Dr. Elson M. Haas, MD Staying Healthy Shopper's Guide: Feed Your Family Safely.

The government and the food industry tell us that food additives are tested for safety. That is true, but they're tested one at a time. They are not tested in combination with the many other food additives we eat along with them or which may be present in our bodies for a day, a week, a month or a year after we eat them. No one has any idea what food additives do to us when they are combined in a normal diet. Nor do we know what they do to us in the long run, after decades and decades of exposure. Finally, no one knows what they do to children and teenagers and their growing bodies and nervous systems.

Then again, we're all still alive and we've been eating this stuff for a long time. (Well, actually, some of us are still alive. Some, especially adults who've been exposed longer than kids, may have died from cancer caused by all these additives.) There are warning signs in addition to the rise in the rate of cancer. Here are three: The first is shown in Mr. Spurlock's movie. If we eat a lot of fast food, we'll get fat, pickle our livers and clog our arteries. The second is demonstrated by the experience of the school Mr. Spurlock visited in which problem kids settled down dramatically when they were given a diet of organic food without preservatives and other artificial ingredients. Here is another: It was reported by researchers at the University of Liverpool, England, that "when mouse nerve cells were exposed to MSG and brilliant blue or aspartame and quinoline yellow in laboratory conditions, combined in concentrations that theoretically reflect the compound that enters the bloodstream after a typical children's snack and drink, the additives stopped the nerve cells growing and interfered with proper signaling systems." Combining Food Additives May be Harmful, Say Researchers Guardian Newspaper, Felicity Lawrence, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Wednesday December 21, 2005.

The only way to be really safe from additives is to eat a strictly organic diet. This gets easier and easier every year but it means almost no convenience foods, no soft drinks, no snack food, no fast food, and no TV dinners. It costs more, too, but some supermarket chains are trying to make organic food more affordable.

Contaminants are another big problem. The cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys caught up in the factory farming system are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Each year we hear about people dying from e-coli bacteria or salmonella. One year it was in the hamburgers sold by Jack in the Box. Another year it was on lettuce contaminated by runoff from a pig farm. Most chicken sold in the U.S. is contaminated with salmonella. If the meat isn't well-cooked it can cause illness, usually just an upset stomach. Very infrequently the person dies. (The elderly and young children are the most vulnerable.) Meat for hamburgers is often mixed together. In a single hamburger we can have meat from hundreds of cows. If one of those cows is sick, then we can get sick, too. That's why all meat and poultry should be well cooked. Don't eat it pink. Pink is uncooked and can carry disease.

Pesticides and fungicides are often sprayed on crops. They can affect the health of animals (including humans). Widespread use of the insecticide DDT to control mosquitoes almost destroyed several species of birds, including the bald eagle. It made the shells of their chicks so thin that the chicks were not protected and died.

Foods to Avoid or Limit

Contaminants and additives are only a small part of the problem. Scientists have demonstrated again and again that certain foods are really killing us. What tastes good is often what is very harmful. Four of the most important foods that we have to watch are: (1) fat, (2) sugar and high fructose corn syrup, (3) salt, and (4) refined carbohydrates.

The risks of eating a high fat, high sugar, high salt and low fiber diet are not confined to fast food. Food we get from the store, both prepared frozen meals and traditional dishes with high concentrations of salt, fat, sugar, or refined carbohydrates, contribute to disease.
    Fat:     Fats are the body's way of storing energy. They also aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Small amounts of fat are important for proper growth and development, as well as for the maintenance of good health. The Food and Drug Administration says that our diets should contain between 5 and 20% fat. (5% to 20% Daily Value (DV). Some nutritionists contend that the 20% figure is much too high and that the FDA set the upper level of fat at 20% to protect the prepared food industry which makes money selling foods containing large amounts of fat.)

    Our love for fat goes far back in time. For our ancestors, starvation was never far away and fats were hard to come by. Fat is an excellent way to store calories during good times to use in the lean times that were sure to come. Our bodies therefore developed a taste for fat. In addition, the problems that arise when fat was eaten in high amounts for years at a time didn't occur. Life was hard and people lived only 35 - 40 years. Thus our bodies didn't develop a defense against eating too much fat.

    We are now in different circumstances. People live longer and starvation for those in the developed nations is not a problem. Fats enhance most flavors. Restaurants and companies that sell processed foods want us to buy their products. One of the best ways to make food taste better is to put a lot of fat in it. All of this fat clogs our arteries and puts stress on our digestive systems. In addition, it helps us to gain weight, which itself causes the many health problems described in the section on obesity.

    Not all fats are equally bad. There are four types of fats: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. The first three appear in nature. Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, found mostly in plants and some sea foods, don't cause health problems on their own.

    Saturated fat builds cholesterol deposits in our arteries. In nature, saturated fats come primarily from animal products such as meat, milk, and cheese. Hunter-gatherers didn't encounter these types of food all that often. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is used to build cell membranes and nerve cells. (Without nerve cells for our brains, we'd all be pretty stupid.) It helps the body in a number of other ways such as making certain hormones and bile acids. But our own livers make all the cholesterol we need. Cholesterol from the food we eat is extra.

    There are several types of cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the kind that builds up in our arteries and restricts the flow of blood to the heart. Saturated fat raises the level of LDL cholesterol. Unsaturated fat does not. The heart has to pump enough blood to sustain us every minute we're alive. That's 70 - 80 beats per minute or 100,000-115,000 beats every day. When our heart doesn't get enough blood to give it the oxygen it needs to do its work, we have coronary heart disease and eventually a heart attack. When our heart stops . . . . Well, we all know what happens then.

    Trans fats are the worst type of fat. While saturated fat is the main culprit in raising LDL ("bad") cholesterol, trans fats also make a significant contribution to the development of coronary heart disease. Unlike saturated fats, which appear abundantly in animal products, there are very few natural sources of trans fats. Trans fats are created when unsaturated fats are chemically altered to become saturated fats. This promotes longer shelf life or a better taste. (Did you hear that? Someone whispered "ersatz.") Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and many other convenience foods.

    Once we grow a fat cell it never leaves us. If we gain weight and then slim down again the fat cells that we developed when we gained the weight stay in our bodies; they're just empty and hungry. They have a tendency to fill up again whenever they can. Mr. Spurlock made a lot of money from his movie and it launched his career, but he'll pay for it all of his life by having to watch his weight more carefully. Most of us who overeat at fast food restaurants don't get that kind of benefit in return for growing more fat cells.

    Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup:     Fruit is a good source of vitamins, minerals and plant phytochemicals. Fruit helps prevent heart disease and some cancers. When our species developed, the primary source for sugar was in fruit.

    Refined sugar has changed the course of history. Sugar made from sugar cane was brought to Europe by the Moors when they conquered Spain in the 8th century C.E. Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought it, too. Originally it was an expensive delicacy but it grew in popularity. Christopher Columbus took sugar cane seedlings with him on his voyages of discovery. The climate and soil in the New World were so conducive to growing sugar that thousands upon thousands of acres in the Caribbean and in South America were cleared for growing sugar cane. By the 17th century, Western Europe was crazy for sugar. The economies of entire countries and entire islands in the Caribbean (for example, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas) were based on sugar. The need for workers fueled the slave trade from Africa. They couldn't get whites to do the work and Native Americans usually died when they were enslaved. Africans, removed from their homeland and enslaved, would do the work and they survived. The need for iron gears for thousands of sugar cane processing plants helped fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Wikipedia article on the History of Sugar In addition, sugar, through the dental decay that it causes, helped create an entirely new profession and a new industry, that of the dentist. In the 19th century it was discovered that beets were also a source for table sugar. Currently, beets account for 30% of world sugar production.

    Sugar contains mostly glucose. It provides energy but virtually nothing that people need to grow and maintain their bodies. It has no vitamins, minerals, protein, or fiber. But, not only does sugar taste good, it makes us feel good. When we drink a soft drink, the immediate boost in energy and good feeling comes from the sugar, not the caffeine. That drug kicks in later. There is evidence that sugar increases the production of opiates in our bodies. Opiates are chemicals that make us feel good. Our bodies produce them naturally when we exercise.

    In the second half of the 20th century, the prepared food industry developed a new type of sugar, one that's even sweeter, and some say worse for us, than regular sugar. It's called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It tastes just like sugar and pound for pound it is sweeter than sugar. It's created by a process that involves a number of chemical modifications of corn. (Did someone whisper "ersatz" again?) Consumption of high fructose corn syrup has risen from zero consumption in 1966 to 35.7 lbs per person in 2007. It's now almost half of the total sweetener market in the U.S. and a multi-billion dollar industry. Again, the explanation for the sudden rise of HFCS begins with the economics of the convenience food industry. Simply put, HFCS is cheaper than sugar but the taste is identical. Agribusiness has saved hundreds of millions of dollars a year substituting HFCS for sugar. Sweet but Not So Innocent? -- High-Fructose Corn Syrup May Act More Like Fat Than Sugar in the Body by Sally Squires, Washington Post, Tuesday, March 11, 2003; Page HE01; and : USDA Economic Research Service, see Table 52 for lbs of corn syrup consumed per year per person 2009. Table 51 shows sugar consumption 2009.

    There is a raging debate about whether HFCS itself is worse for us than sugar. But we don't need studies of the effects of HFCS alone to know that it's bad for us, because at best HFCS is a concentrated form of sugar. HFCS is a favorite of soda companies. A research study that followed 50,000 U.S. nurses found that those who drank just one serving of non-diet soda or fruit punch a day gained much more weight than those who drank less than one soda a month. They also had an 80% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This risk was associated with drinks sweetened with either sugar or HFCS. The increase in weight and diabetes was caused by just one drink a day! Regular Soda a Day Boosts Weight Gain -- Non-Diet Drinks Also Increase Risk of Diabetes, Study Shows by Rob Stein, Washington Post, Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page A01.

    Diabetes itself causes heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of the lower extremities. (That means your legs!) But don't worry. Usually they only cut off one leg, and besides, you won't be one-legged for more than a couple of decades because diabetes also reduces your life expectancy: 17 to 27 years if you develop it by the age of 15. Source: "Super Size Me". All this for a few stupid cans of soda. "The message is clear: Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their family would not consume these beverages." Dr. Walter C. Willett, Harvard School of Public Health, the man who conducted the study reported in Mr. Stein's Washington Post article.

    Sugar and its ersatz twin, HFCS, permeate the modern diet and are found in a majority of foods that are processed, including fast food, soft drinks, fruit drinks, breads, cereals, mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, hot dogs, lunch meat, crackers, canned fruits, canned vegetables and many, many more. In the United States, as of 2009, the average person consumed about 100 pounds of sweetener each year. Of these, 42.2 lbs were HFCS and 45.3 lbs were sugar. USDA Sugar and Sweeteners: Data Tables, Tables 51 - 53.

    In 2003 the World Health Organization (an arm of the United Nations) recommended that no more than 10% of daily calories be from added sugars. It did this despite threats from the food industry that if it issued this recommendation food industry lobbyists would ask the U.S. Congress to cut funding for the agency. Big Sugar sour on health report Miami Herald, April 23, 2003. The WHO didn't back down.

    Salt: In the past, salt was as valuable as gold. Some salt, a little bit, is necessary for life. It helps maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies. It also helps transmit nerve impulses and it influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Because we need some salt and because for eons salt was hard to find, our bodies developed a taste for it. Salt is used to enhance the flavor in any type of cooking. However, when food companies are in competition to provide us with the tastiest food possible and when the freezing, drying, or canning process takes the natural flavors out of food, the companies compensate by, among other things, adding a lot of salt. Most Americans consume much more salt than is recommended by doctors and nutritionists. Three fourths of that amount is from salt added to processed foods. The recommended intake of salt is less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. Dietary Guidelines and Sodium: Are you getting too much? from Mayo Clinic.com. Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the USDA.

    Refined Carbohydrates:    The problem with refined carbohydrates, like the problem with refined sugar, is that if we satisfy our appetites with these foods, we don't get the vitamins, minerals and fiber that our bodies need. We should have 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1000 calories. We can't do that on refined foods. Ibid.
Remember what happened to Mr. Spurlock in just 30 days of eating only fast food? He gained 24.5 pounds, increasing his body fat from a healthy 11% to an alarming 18%. (Remember, at 20% he would be clinically obese.) He was well on his way to pickling his liver as if he had been an alcoholic who'd been drinking for years. His cholesterol increased by 65% to an unhealthy level. He also developed chest pressure, depression, sugar addiction, headaches, labored breathing, hot flashes, and heart palpitations. After he stopped his McDonald's "diet" it took him six weeks to bring his blood levels back to normal and five months to lose 20 pounds. The fat cells that he grew will be with him all his life and he'll have a tendency to gain the 24.5 pounds, or part of it, back again.

Certainly, if we eat fast food or convenience food only once a month like most nutritionists recommend, our bodies will be able to deal with the fat, salt, sugar and additives in the food. But what about all that other convenience food? And what if, like most Americans, we eat fast food more than once a month?

Being an Educated Consumer

Advertisers targeting children have already "educated" us to be terrible consumers. Corporations spend more than $15 billion every year to influence kids. Four hours of television programming contain about 100 advertisements. The average American child may view as many as 40,000 television commercials every year. About 20,000 are for convenience foods: soda, candy, breakfast cereals, and fast food. Many of them are the same ad run over and over again because marketing research shows that this works. (Not surprisingly, children who watch a lot of television want more toys seen in advertisements and eat more advertised food than children who do not watch as much television.) By three years of age, if not earlier, kids can recognize many brands. (Tobacco companies would promote candy cigarettes for children for "brand imprinting for later actuation in life.") McDonald's is especially good at luring children into its restaurants with Ronald McDonald, birthday parties, Happy Meals, Mighty Kids Meals, playgrounds, etc. In 1996 McDonald's claimed that nine out of ten Americans kids could recognize and name Ronald McDonald.

Young children can't distinguish between commercials and TV programs. They don't recognize that commercials are trying to sell something. In 2005, children 12 years and under influenced the household spending of over $700 billion. Sources: The Economist, May 14, 2011: "Trillion-dollar kids Children exert a surprising influence over the purchase of grown-up goods" accessed on May 14, 2011; the information is in the 3rd paragraph

Fast food companies are very good at marketing to children and adolescents. (That means you.) Children's television is saturated with commercials. The companies cross market with movies or popular brands (The famous Disney/McDonald's partnership is just one example). They provide free toys with meals and provide playgrounds at the restaurants. Different versions of toys are given away in different weeks and, of course, parents have to get their kids each version. So, they go back repeatedly and purchase more food. (McDonald's can be said to be one of the largest toy stores in the world, distributing 1.5 billion toys a year. Fast food chains are the source of one out of every three toys given to an American child each year.) Offering the right toy can double or triple sales of children's meals and, for each child, one or two parents usually purchase a meal as well. Schlosser and Wilson, pp. 58 & 59. Older children are also targeted with trendy commercials, endorsements by sports stars and celebrities, etc.

Sales of other types of convenience foods are the result of what marketing executives call the "nag factor": 25% of salty snacks, 40% of frozen pizza, 50% of cold cereals, and 60% of canned pasta sales are the result of this type of pressure. Morgan Spurlock again:
... There was actually a marketing study put out in 1998 called The Nag Factor. Was it published to help parents learn how to say no to their kids? Tzzzt. Sorry. Nope, it was done to help advertisers and marketers learn how to target kids better, to get them to nag. I couldn't make this up. The press release that went out to advertisers to announce the publication of this study was called -- I'm not kidding -- "The Fine Art of Whining: Why Nagging Is a Kid's Best Friend." Another industry name for this is "pester power." Spurlock, p. 151.
What we all need to do is get beyond advertising to real education. Learn about the food we eat. Read the labels. Understand not only good nutrition, but how years of advertising have affected us. And we should understand one last thing: our own personal relationship with food. There are all kinds of pressures that can push the amount that we eat in the wrong direction, either too much or too little. Some mothers express love for their children by trying to get them to eat a lot. Some of us deal with disappointments in life, tension on the job, or problems at home by overeating. For others it's the size of what we consume that matters: bigger cars . . . bigger houses, . . . bigger meals . . . even bigger bellies (!!). "Bigness is addictive because it is about power. .... While few teenage boys can actually finish a 64-ounce Double Gulp, it's empowering to hold one in your hand." Irma Zall, a teen marketing consultant, quoted at Critser p. 29. Some people, girls especially, go the other way and develop a disease called anorexia, in which they think they're too fat no matter how thin they are. Being educated consumers also means knowing ourselves and our own psychology.

One more thing, as if life wasn't difficult enough. Mr. Spurlock had an independent laboratory check the statistics listed on the McDonald's website for the calories, fat, sodium, sugars, and dietary fiber in its food. He found that the size of the portions were smaller on the website than what he was served at a McDonald's restaurant and that the content of calories, fat, sodium, and sugars were uniformly higher than reported on the website. In addition, he found that there was less fiber than reported. In other words, McDonald's was underestimating the dangers of its food. Spurlock: Appendix 2.

A Few Practical Tips for Better Eating

So what do we do? If our game isn't working, the sports coach says, go back to basics. For eating, that means to eat like our ancestors did as much as we can: fresh food, if possible grown locally, including fruit and vegetables (9 servings a day), whole grains (at least 3 servings a day), nuts, and legumes. People should consume a variety of foods and control caloric intake. We should consume fats, salt, carbohydrates, and sugared foods in moderation, which for most of us means that we'll have to reduce our intake. We need to increase our consumption of dietary fiber. See the U.S. Government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. (The government recommends 3 cups of non-fat or low-fat milk or the equivalent per day. Some well-regarded nutritionists dispute the value of milk in the diet and charge that milk was included because of pressure from the dairy industry.)

Regular and frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and cataracts. It postpones aging for a while. The combination of the vitamins and other beneficial phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables causes this. Taken separately they don't have the same effect. So it's important to have a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. See Fruits and Veggies Matter! a website from the Centers for Disease Control promoting a diet which includes fruit and vegetables.

Here's an example of back to basics. Remember the ad campaign from Subway about the young man, Jared Fogel, who went from 425 to 192 lbs on a year-long Subway diet? Well, Mr. Spurlock interviewed Mr. Fogel and it turns out that what Mr. Fogel did was to stop overeating and go on an exercise plan. That's why he lost the weight. It didn't have much to do with Subway. Spurlock at pp. 141 - 144. (There are a lot of vegetables and fruit that Mr. Fogel should have been eating that Subway doesn't offer. He only went part of the way back to basics, and look at the results of even that halfway measure.)

Speaking of Subway, the great advantage (and sometimes the even greater disadvantage) of Subway is that we can choose what they put in our sandwich. We can have whole wheat bread with just vegetables or lean chicken and no mayo. But then again, we can order a sandwich containing four strips of bacon, lettuce and lots of mayonnaise on white bread. Now that sandwich is probably worse for us than a Big Mac or a Whopper. Subway claims to stress healthy meals but every Subway store is loaded with chips and has a great big soft drink dispenser. (Don't tell me they don't want you to buy that stuff.)

With respect to fat, choose oils high in unsaturated fats (like olive oil), buy margarine made with unsaturated liquid vegetable oils as the first ingredient and limit butter, lard, fatback, solid shortenings, and full fat mayonnaise. If you're going to eat meat, eat less of it, eat only lean meat, and make sure it is well cooked. Wild caught fish are said to be a healthy protein source but mercury contamination is now an issue.

Eat according to the Food Pyramid. But remember that this is created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which is charged with protecting farmers. Some nutritionists have criticized the pyramid for promoting consumption of meat and dairy products.

Learn to read the nutritional labels and be a truly educated consumer. Look out for the tricks of the people trying to market food to you. They often fortify highly sugared products with calcium or vitamins that people with a good diet don't need. Along with the extra vitamins or calcium comes an unhealthy dose of sugar, fat, salt or refined carbohydrates.

END OF STUDENT HANDOUT. See the Convenience Food Student Handout in Microsoft Word®. The citations have been deleted from the handout.

These notes are suggested for a very short lecture after the film. Another approach is to work these concepts into your comments during the class discussion. See Discussion Questions below.
The first point is to tell the kids that you don't expect most of them to stop eating convenience food. The flavorologists and advertisers do too good a job for that. Maybe, each year, one or two kids will really take the lesson to heart and start eating very well. That would be a home run. But you do hope that all of them will eat more food prepared from natural ingredients, buy less convenience food, and watch their weight.

TeachWithMovies has found seven reasons that might convince teenagers to reduce or eliminate their consumption of fast food and resist the obesity epidemic. Different themes will work with different kids. Some will reject everything now but the seeds of change will be sown, hopefully to blossom later.

  • As people who aren't yet adults, there's one thing you can control. It's what you eat; what you put into your body. (Teenagers often feel powerless. What they eat is something that they can control.)

  • Convenience foods are loaded with fat, salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and chemical additives. They often don't contain the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that we need for optimal physical and mental development. Convenience foods are major contributors to the obesity epidemic which sickens and kills millions of people each year. (This is the health argument made in the movie and the handout.)

  • The executives from the convenience food companies are not trying to kill us, it's just that our health often gets in the way of their companies' profits. (The executives who run McDonald's, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, Starbucks, and all the other companies that sell prepared foods are not bad people, but they're not our friends and they are not interested in our health. They are trying to enhance the return on their shareholders' investment by reducing costs and getting us to consume more. Business schools teach courses in "marketing" and "advertising" showing people how to convince the public to buy more of their product. On occasion processed food companies are forced by public opinion or the government to modify their food to make it healthier. But if it comes to a question of profits vs. health, profits will win. It's unlikely that the overall experience of eating convenience food, especially eating at a fast food restaurant, will ever be truly good for us.)

  • The food that's sold is often not really the kind of food that grows in the ground. (In order to reduce costs, improve color, or to enhance taste, the prepared food industry adds chemicals that change the nature of what we eat by adding chemical flavoring and color and by changing the chemical content of food to make fake foods like trans fat and HFCS.)

  • Advertisers can't be trusted to tell the truth and they've already got their hooks deep into all of us. (Advertisers know that younger children cannot look critically at an advertisement. They get us early with special meals, free toys, and characters like Ronald McDonald, because they know that unreasoning brand loyalty built when we are young is a powerful weapon. Many decisions by adolescents and adults about what to buy are influenced by a desire for brands or foods that recall happy times when he or she was young.)

  • And then there's compassion, an ethical value endorsed by the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions. (Each year cows, pigs, turkeys, and and sheep in the hundreds of millions are raised in factory farms in conditions of abject misery. For chidkens, the number is in the billions. Then they are transported to slaughter houses where they are brutally killed. The only way to reduce the suffering these animals endure is to reduce consumption of meat and poultry. See Discussion Question #6.)

  • And last but not least, there is vanity. (Thinner and healthier people look better and are more desirable. Eating convenience food is an excellent way to look fat and frumpy.)

Teachers and parents should always be up front with children: almost all of us have to battle against fast food, snack food, sodas, and prepared food. In our society, they're hard to avoid. In addition, we've been bombarded by advertising about how good this food tastes since we were infants. All of us could improve our diets and all of us fall prey to the convenience food trap. The purpose of this movie and this lesson plan is to give kids the information and motivation to eat convenience food less frequently.


Discussion Questions:

1A.   Most people know that convenience food (CF) is loaded with salt, sugar and fat. They have heard that CF is a substantial factor in causing the obesity epidemic, the second leading cause of preventable death. List the facts that affect the answer to the following question: When a consumer eats fast food from a restaurant like McDonald's or Burger King or buys convenience food in a store, who is responsible for the deterioration in the consumer's health caused by eating that food? Is it the consumer or is it the company that runs the restaurant?

Suggested Response: Start by asking the students what they think the facts are. For each important fact, write one to three word notes on the board using a "T" chart: the facts supporting the consumer's responsibility one side and facts supporting the company's responsibility on the other. Have students write the details of the factors in their notebooks.

The list should include at least the following facts. Students might come up with more. Write the underlined headings on the appropriate side of the "T" chart.
(1) Consumer Decides -- People are not forced to eat convenience food or to go into a fast food restaurant.

(2) Advertising/Marketing -- Convenience food manufacturers and fast food restaurants try to sell as much food as they can. They use a number of marketing tactics including advertising aimed at children, pricing structures aimed at getting people to purchase food they don't need (a good example is super sizing, the increase in portion sizes for just a small increase in price), and advertising aimed at subconscious urges and desires (like the desire to be cool and with the "in crowd").

(3) Nondisclosure -- Convenience food manufacturers often do not fully disclose the dangers of the foods they serve. Frequently, they lie and dissemble to hide how unhealthy their food really is.

(4) Ersatz Food -- Convenience food manufacturers manipulate the food to make it taste better, to make it less expensive, and to add to its shelf life in ways that make the food more dangerous and less healthy.

(5) Cheap -- CF is often cheap and there is a benefit to consumers in having inexpensive food available to them.

(6) Tasty -- CF often tastes good and consumers like that.

(7) Profits -- The CF companies make a large profit on the food they sell.

If the discussion stalls, the questions set out below may get the discussion going again.

A.   If the industry creates the desire for the product through advertising, does it have some responsibility for what happens when people try to satisfy that desire?

B.   Advertising plays upon people psychologically in ways that are not immediately apparent to adults and to children, especially young children. Should the industry which puts out that advertising and tries to profit from it, pay for some of the collateral damage?

C.   The convenience food companies are not up front in their advertising about the dangers of their products: the trans fat, the saturated fat, the sugar, the salt and the extra calories. For example, it is known that trans fats clog arteries and cause heart disease. The trans fat in convenience food is mostly man-made. A chemical process is used to convert unsaturated fat to saturated fat. If a fast food restaurant advertises heavily, trying to get people to buy its product, claiming that it tastes good, and then puts trans fats into it to increase shelf life, doesn't that restaurant have a responsibility to warn the consumer that there are substances in the product that may be harmful? Is this also true of convenience food makers who put high amounts of salt, sugar, or fat in the food?

D.   What about the fact that convenience food companies lie about the health effects of their food? Remember what Mr. Spurlock found when he tested the data posted on the McDonald's website?

E.   Who makes the final decision to purchase the food?

F.   No one has time to check out the health benefits of all the food that they eat. How can the consumer be held responsible?
1B.   Once the list includes at least the seven factors described below, ask for an answer to the question of who is responsible, the consumer or the company. Another way to prase the question is: What about this class? You've been warned and are now educated consumers. When a student from this class goes into a fast food restaurant, who's responsible? Suggested Response: TWM suggests that the strongest answer is that there is responsibility on both sides.

2.   Tell students to imagine their class is a congressional committee responsible for recommending what the government should do to fight the obesity epidemic and to regulate the convenience food industry. Tell the class that this will be somewhat like the government's campaign to reduce smoking. The plan should be based on the extent of responsibility that the consumer or the industry bears for the harm caused by eating at places like McDonald's and Burger King. It should be practical and effective. Suggested Response: Here are some ideas about general ways to approach the problem. The class can add to this list and must determine how best to implement these ideas. Possible solutions might include:

  • a sales tax on fast food to pay for PR campaigns to limit consumption, to defray the increased medical costs of those who eat convenience food, or to subsidize fresh food consumption; the problem with this approach is that it would be very hard to determine which restaurants served convenience food, so the tax would have to be on all restaurants;

  • limits on restaurant hours;

  • limits on the age of customers;

  • requirements that warning labels be placed on food wrapping and menus;

  • requirements that alternative healthy choices be offered;

  • discounts for students who choose healthy food;

  • prohibition on advertising or limits on advertising, such as limits on advertising directed at children (see question #3 below);

  • creation of a really well-designed PR campaign to convince people limit their consumption of convenience food;

  • prohibitions on super sizing;

  • limits on the calorie content, salt content, and fat content; and

  • limits on the types of foods that can be sold, e.g., all meat must have a low fat content; all meals must have a salad, and a cooked green vegetable.

Briefly summarize each suggestion on the board. When the creativity of the class has been exhausted, have the class debate whether eachs proposed solution is just, practical to implement, and effective. Then let the class vote on which regulations to adopt.

3.   As an alternative to question #2, ask the following question: The fast food industry spends billions of dollars each year in advertising. Should this be prohibited or limited in some way? Does your answer change for advertising geared toward children? Should Ronald McDonald be banned?

Suggested Response: A good discussion will include the following:

    Points for regulation or prohibition of advertising by fast food restaurants: It has been determined that too much fast food (even a moderate amount of fast food) is bad for your health. It is especially bad for children. The companies use advertising to create the desire for their food. The techniques used by marketers and advertisers are often subtle and based on subconscious drives that we are not even aware of. They do not disclose what is in the food (like trans fats and HFCS) and they don't warn of the dangers of eating their food. For this reason, the advertising should be regulated to require adequate disclosures and warnings about the dangers of fast food. The argument for prohibiting advertisements aimed at children is much stronger than for advertising aimed at adults. Children, especially young children, are very susceptible to advertising because, in their innocence, they can't critically evaluate what they are hearing and seeing.

    Points against regulation or prohibition of advertising fast food restaurants: If you distort the marketplace by too much regulation, the marketplace loses its efficiency. It is up to people to decide what they put in their bodies. It is not up to the government to tell them what to eat. (Note that the First Amendment does not stop the government from regulating the advertisement of commercial products. In other words, if society decides that advertising a product needs to be regulated for an important public good, the First Amendment does not prohibit that regulation. This is the basis for limits on tobacco advertising.)

4.  Should fast food outlets be invited onto a high school campus to sell food to students?

Suggested Response: The general consensus is that this is not a good idea because it promotes the consumption of fast food by students. However, kids may disagree. This is a great question for debate.

5.  What about selling sodas or sugared drinks at school through vending machines? Should that be allowed or prohibited? Suggested Response: See response to preceding question.

6.  By offering kids convenience food in the food line at the cafeteria are we setting them up to make bad choices or giving them an opportunity to make good choices? Suggested Response: The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. When offered fast food, kids will usually take it.

7.  Should people stop eating meat and poultry? Justify your answer. Suggested Response: People disagree on this. A good discussion will raise the following points. Points against eating meat: Reducing or eliminating meat from our diets improves our health. Meat contains fat and many contaminants. Reducing meat consumption is better for the environment. Meat production takes a tremendous toll on the environment. A meat-free diet is better for the animals. They won't be tortured and then killed. Reducing meat consumption will help eliminate world hunger. Feeding animals grain and then eating the meat of the animal wastes a lot of grain. The animal moves around using up the food energy and a lot of grain goes to create the non-edible parts of the animal. It takes at least seven pounds of grain to make one pound of meat. World hunger could probably be eliminated if all the grain fed to animals was made available to people. Points for eating meat: Meat, milk, and cheese taste good. They are a good source of protein and calcium and some people believe they need it for proper nutrition. If it was really dangerous, the government wouldn't let it on the market. Rebuttal: Vegans (who eat no animal products) and vegetarians (who do not eat meat or poultry but will consume dairy products) live long and healthy lives. Neither meat nor dairy products are necessary for good nutrition. With respect to the argument that if it was really dangerous the government would do something, the answer is that the government is beholden to the agricultural and convenience food interests. The government didn't stop the tobacco companies for decades even when it knew cigarettes were killing hundreds of thousands each year. We can't trust the government to take care of us when there are powerful industries lobbying to stop government action. And so the only reason the proponents of eating meat are left with is the fact that meat, milk, and cheese taste good. This means that people are hurting their health, contributing to the destruction of the environment, and killing billions of innocent animals simply for pleasure when they eat. [Note that the author of this Lesson Plan is a vegan and believes that people can get good nutrition without meat and dairy and should not eat food from animals because it inflicts needless suffering.]


Some of the discussion questions can serve as writing prompts. Additional assignments include:

1.  Research details about three of the health problem Spurlock faced in his 30 day marathon of fast food. Write an essay in which you assert your idea about how the problems he faced in his junk-food diet could possibly be mitigated by moderation. For example, is it safe to eat at a place like McDonalds once or twice a month?

2.  Write an opinion essay on one of the following posits:
  • the fast food industry should be held responsible for the health crisis faced in America today;
  • personal health is the responsibility of the individual;
  • the fast food industry should be taxed to help pay for the high cost of health care problems associated with its product;
  • marketing techniques used by the fast food industry should be regulated by government legislation;
  • government subsidy should help poor people gain access to healthy food.
Use facts to support your conclusions. Cite your sources.

3.  Reflect on your own eating habits. Look mindfully at what you eat in a given day and write about whether or not health factors play any role in your food choices. Conclude your reflection with comments about how your habits would change were you to take into account some of the ideas presented in the film.


Select the questions suitable for your class. For this assignment in word processing format, see Super Size Me Homework Assignment. Note that the assignment assumes that the lecture or an equivalent has been given to the class or that students have read the Student Handout. The homework assignment can also be given to the class as an open book test.

For an answer key click here.

1.  List four different types of convenience foods.

2.  What is a common definition of obesity? Give your answer in terms of the percentage of a person's weight that is comprised of fat.

3.  List the three most important causes of preventable death for the entire population in the U.S. Then list the three most important causes of preventable death among U.S. teenagers.

4.  In terms of BMI, what is a healthy weight, what is overweight, and what is obesity?

5.  State in words the formula for BMI and describe what it measures. Be sure to include a reference to pounds and inches in your statement. Then calculate your own BMI.

6.  For the most current year for which we have statistics on how many children were obese, state the year, the number of children in the U.S. who were obese and their percentage of the population of children.

7.  Name ten serious diseases that obese people get more often than people who are not obese.

8.  Why are people in the U.S. getting fatter? Mr. Spurlock told us. What did he say?

9.  What percentage of meals do Americans eat in restaurants, including fast food outlets?

10.  Explain the psychology behind supersizing. Why is it a good marketing technique?

11.  If a person is presented at a meal with more food than he or she could possibly eat, how much more food will the average person consume than he or she needs? Give your answer in terms of a percentage.

12.  What is the profit margin for French fries sold in fast food restaurants?

13.  Why do restaurateurs like to sell super sized meals?

14.  What does "ersatz" mean?

15.  Give two examples of specific convenience foods that are ersatz food that we learned about in this unit. Describe why they are called ersatz.

16.  What are the four general types of foods that can hurt our health if we are not careful to consume moderate or small amounts?

17.  What is a flavorologist?

18.  What is the difference between natural and artificial flavors put into foods?

19.  Food additives are tested for safety, so why are they still a risk to our health? Give two reasons.

20.  Fats and salt often make food taste better. Why do we like the tastes of fats and salt?

21.  What are trans fats and why are they bad for us?

22.  What is the mechanism by which LDL cholesterol causes heart disease?

23.  Which types of fats do not contribute to heart disease?

24.  What types of foods contain fats that have high amounts of LDL cholesterol?

25.  What types of foods contain fats that do not contribute to cholesterol found?

26.  Why does advertising affect young children more than it does teenagers and adults?

27.  The Food and Drug Administration says that our diets should contain between 5 and 20% fat. What do some nutritionists say about the 20% number?

28.  What is the "nag factor"?

29.  What doesn't sugar have that is healthy for us?

30.  How did the growth of the sugar industry in the 17th and 18th centuries contribute to the Industrial Revolution? How did the growth of the sugar industry contribute to the slave trade?

31.  Remember Jared Fogel, the young man who lost so much weight eating at Subway? What were the two most important reasons for the success of his weight loss program? Did they have anything to do with the fact that he ate at Subway?

32.  In the study that followed 50,000 nurses, how many cans of soft drinks a day did it take to lead to weight gain and an 80% increase in Type 2 Diabetes?

33.  In 2005, how many pounds of sweetener did the average American consume? How much of this amount was sugar and how much was HFCS?

34.  When the World Health Organization stated that it was going to release a recommendation that sweeteners account for only 10% of daily calories, what did the food industry do?

35.  The caloric content of the largest serving of McDonald's French fries that you can buy has changed from 1960 to the present. Describe that change.

36.  What is the recommended caloric intake per day for teenagers?

37.  People with Type 2 diabetes are at risk for several other illnesses. Name three of them.

38.  Can you rely on the nutrition statistics on the websites of the convenience food companies?

39.  Did Mr. Spurlock's 30 day fast food diet have any effects on his mind? What were they?

40.  Name four things that society as a whole could do to reduce the obesity epidemic. (Don't list things that an individual can do, but only list what society as a whole can do.)

41.   Assignments, Projects and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

42.   Separate the class into groups. Assign or allow each group to chose a position on one of the questions below. Give each group two weeks to do research on the Internet and in the library. Then stage debates in class on the following propositions:

  •    Eating meat should be discouraged for our health, to help save the environment, and to stop the torture and slaughter of billions of innocent animals each year.

  •   Advertisements of convenience food aimed at children under 15 years of age should be prohibited.

  • Advertisements of convenience food should contain a clear statement of the dangers of the food to the health of the consumer.

  • Fast food like McDonald's or pizza should not be served for lunch at high schools.

  • Sodas and sugared drinks should not be available to students from vending machines at school.

Have the students who hear the debates write a short essay describing their position any of the issues debated.

43.  Have students cook and eat a vegan meal or call a local vegan restaurant and ask the chef to give a talk to the class and bring some food.

44.  Send students to different fast food restaurants to ask to see information about the ingredients, calories and nutritional content of the food. They should report back about what they were told and what they found out.

45.  Have everyone in the class perform an inventory of what they eat in a typical day and then examine it in relation to what we have learned about what not to eat.

46.  Class members can interview one another and make a plan to eat better.

47.  List on the board or in a handout a number of famous people that the class would be interested in who are also vegetarian. See Famous Veggie.com.

48.  Students can research and report on the backgrounds of the top five officers in the Department of Agriculture from the Secretary down the chain of command to those who head the departments dealing with nutrition. See if they have any ties to companies which might sway their decisions about nutrition.

49.  Have students investigate and report to the class whether the food industry or its executives make substantial donations to various charitable organizations which give advice on health and nutrition and whether the contributions affect the advice given by the charitable organization.

50.  Have students go to a movie theater or a fast food restaurant and compare the "value" between an extra large serving and the next smallest serving of different foods.

See also, Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

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