Morgan Spurlock weighs in on child obesity

Saturday, November 1, 2008 | 6:55 p.m. CDT; updated 10:06 p.m. CDT, Saturday, November 1, 2008

COLUMBIA — The laughter that filled the room could have fooled anyone. The topic of childhood obesity is not a joking matter, but then again, Morgan Spurlock is part stand-up comedian.

"Watch him in the commercials," Spurlock said of Ronald McDonald. "The clown never eats the food."

Spurlock, an award-winning director and author, was a guest speaker at the Missouri Health Policy Summit on Friday. Sponsored by MU's Center for Health Policy, the summit is an annual event that addresses pivotal health issues. This year, the focus was on health literacy and childhood obesity.  

"We're trying to highlight the potentially devastating effects that childhood obesity has in terms of long-term health," said Kristofer Hagglund, co-director of MU's Center for Health Policy.

In his 2004 documentary, "Super Size Me," Spurlock dined three times a day for a month at McDonald's to show the ill effects of too much fast food. By the end of his experiment, Spurlock suffered from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and liver difficulties, and he had gained 25 pounds. He described his 30-day progression as a "fast forward" of the difficulties children who eat poorly may experience in adulthood.  

"It has been a steadily growing problem over the past two decades and has now reached epidemic proportions," said Stan Hudson, project director for the center.  

Spurlock was not shy about sharing his sentiments on corporate America and the country's apathy towards its poor eating habits.

"One of the biggest problems we have right now is schools," Spurlock said.  

He related a story from "Super Size Me" where he visited a school with a cafeteria that boasted Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and a slushy machine.  

"This is lunch," Spurlock said disgustedly. "We live in a bubble. 'I want it now. It tastes good now.' But we don't think about the effects later."

When asked why the snacks were available, a teacher justified the junk food by insinuating the school was trying to teach students about making the right decisions.

"Really?" Spurlock said. "I never had my mom put a bowl of ice cream and some asparagus in front of me and say, 'Morgan, you make the choice.'"

Steve Williams, the health and physical education consultant for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, also weighed in on the subject.

Williams emphasized the importance of physical education for children and lamented the program's continual disappearance from school curricula.  In an attempt to counteract this trend, Williams and others have proposed a physical education bill for state legislation. So far it has not been approved, but he plans to continue his quest.

"Missouri has a state statute that schools are under local control, which gives us the opportunity to pass the buck a lot," Williams said.

Falling in and out of characters and impressions, Spurlock was animated and highly entertaining as he relayed both personal and professional experiences that have helped shape his views.

"He was excellent," said Kathy Frerichs, a case management nurse from Callaway County.  "He was energetic and made so much sense."

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