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S One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Health, High School Level.
SUBJECTS — U.S./1991 - present; Medicine;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Taking Care of Yourself;
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: 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 supplement a health class curriculum on nutrition, the dangers of convenience food, and the effects of advertising on consumer choices.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will understand some of the serious health risks arising from eating convenience foods. They will be introduced to the concepts of "motivated blindness" and the "bias towards normalcy" and apply them to a decision to eat convenience foods. Through class discussion, research, and writing assignments, student in both health and ELA classes will explore the issues of personal responsibility and the power of marketing tools over health issues, such as obesity, in society today.

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
After Showing the film, display this image to your class and ask "What famous painting is the artist trying to remind us of? What does that add to the message of this picture?


Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Discussion Questions


Additional Discussion Questions:
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class.

Suggested Responses to the questions below "The Fastfood Supper": The painting that the artist is reminding us of is "The Last Supper" by Leonardo Da Vinci in which Jesus is shown eating with his disciples for the last time. The arrangement of people eating while sitting in a line at a table covered with a cloth that hangs down below the table, as well as the three panels in the background are suggestive of Da Vinci's painting. The fact that the picture recalls "The Last Supper," a painting with a serious religious message, tells us that the artist is trying to send an important messange and that, since his painting relates to the "the last" meal that Jesus had with his disciples, that there is an immediate threat to the people in the picture.


Introducing the Film

The only introduction that the film needs is a comment by the teacher that the information about the risks of eating convenience food shown in the movie is correct.

After the Class Watches the Film

After the film is completed show students "The Fastfood Supper" and ask the questions below the picture.

Introduce students to the concepts of "motivated blindness" and "the bias towards normalcy" either by giving them TWM's handout Motivated Blindness and the Normalcy Bias: A Brief Introduction or by covering the same information in a lecture. The photograph below is helpful in conveying these concepts.

The application of the concepts of motivated blindness to the continued consumption of fast food and convenience food is obvious. The application of the normalcy bias needs a short explanation. The "normalcy" is the continued good health of the consumer, despite the ill-effects of fast food and convenience food. This is especially strong in teenagers who believe that they are indestructable and that their good health will continue no matter what they put into their bodies.

Ask students to develop strategies for breaking through motivated blindness and the bias toward normalcy to reduce their own consumption of fast foods and convenience food. One idea is to make a copy of "The Fastfood Supper" and glue it to their notebooks. [TWM hereby authorizes the reproduction of "The Fastfood Supper" for the purpose of reducing the consumption of fast foods, including by attaching the picture to notebooks.]

Then ask students how they would get their friends to stop being the victims of motivated blindess and the normalcy bias with respect to eating fast food anc convenience food,

Discussion Questions Relating to the Issue of Who Bears Responsibility When People Continue to Consume Convenience Food:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

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.

For more discussion questions, click here.

For additional discussion questions click here.



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.

For additional assignments click here.


Many students who see Super Size Me outside of class think that Mr. Spurlock's experiment is just a stunt and they don't take the film seriously. They report that watching the film in class with discussions supplemented by additional materials is an entirely different experience from watching the film at home for entertainment.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Parenting Points: This movie can help convince children to moderate their consumption of fast food. Watch the movie with your kids and take its lessons seriously; these lessons may help you and your children live healthier and longer lives.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

This is Learning Guide was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden. This Guide was last revised on June 30, 2015.

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