Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
For the past year, I’ve heard many popular YouTubers referencing the documentary What The Health. As someone who has considered becoming a vegan, this documentary was definitely on my radar when many high fame vegans in society recommended it. However, upon watching the documentary and analyzing the film, I am left feeling frustrated and disappointed.
Kip Anderson uses his hour and a half documentary to relay the seemingly alarming health consequences that result from eating animal products. He begins the “What the Health” (documentary) by discussing Americans’ overall lack of health and their use of the healthcare system. Then, he goes through each area of animal products that we as a society consume under the premonition that it is healthy for us. He walks through processed meats, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, etc. In each area, Kip makes outrageous claims and points fingers at major organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA), for not reporting these claims. He demonizes the chief medical officer at the ADA by showing footage of an interview where he bombards the officer and expects either a composed, prepared response or an admittance of guilt.
While watching the What the Health documentary, I was horrified to hear about all the terrible things I was putting into my body that I had assumed were good for me. After watching the film, however, I did some research of my own. I found that the community was rejecting Kip’s claims. Two particular claims Kip made stood out to me.
First, he states that processed meats are categorized as group one carcinogens alongside cigarettes and both are equally likely to result in cancer. Vox. com analyzed this and reported that what the study was actually stating was that there was a link between processed meats and cancer just as there is one with cigarettes, but the study was in no way saying that the two are equally as bad.
Another claim made was that eating one egg a day was just as bad for you as smoking five cigarettes. Many reported on the absurdity of this claim, such as Time Magazine and many vegan bloggers themselves. Julia Belluz from Vox writes, “This claim that equates eating eggs with one of the most dangerous health behaviors known to humankind is absurd and reflects an out-of-date understanding of cholesterol’s role in health. Two in three long-term smokers will die because of their habit.
The same just isn’t true for egg eaters. ”Similar to these, Kip misrepresents studies or simply makes claims without citing one at all. Also, many times in the film, Kip’s interviews are with lawyers and authors making large health claims, rather than a reputable health professional or researcher who would be qualified to do so. In one part of the “What the Health”, Kip talks to experts about how our society is one that capitalizes on the doubt of the public and critiques those who report contradictory statements about the health of our food. Ironically, Kip did just that with his own film and contributed to the problem. By making exaggerated claims about what must have been for the “wow factor”, Kip confuses the public even further and instills even more doubt.
While I think the documentary is vastly exaggerated and that it is unfortunate that it was so poorly reported, I do believe a vegan diet is extremely healthy if done correctly. My best friend in high school was diagnosed with cancer after a malignant tumor was found on her liver. The cancer was thought to be derived from carcinogens, rather than genetic factors. After surgical removal of the tumor, instead of drug administration, her treatment was a completely vegan diet, paired with multivitamins and other natural interventions. A year later, my best friend was in remission and is now cancer-free. Before my very eyes, I saw the power of diet intervention and I saw healthcare professionals implementing natural strategies, rather than resorting to drugs. I think if the documentary would have focused on stories like hers and holistic medicine, they would not have needed to make false claims and exaggerations to make a powerful point. Instead, they discredited themselves and the message is lost on those dubious enough to verify their facts.
“What the Health” documentary is one of those documentaries that come with food for thought. Those who consider giving up eating meat and choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet instead are probably looking for inspiration, motivation, and valid information and knowledge too. While the “What the Health” summary gives an insight into what you will find out by watching it, the information they deliver is not verified or confirmed by specialists or research. It could be a nice and good starting point for those who are currently shifting from a meat-based diet to one plant-based. However, because some of the claims are false, this documentary can mislead people who are not informed on the subject and trust the host. By choosing to focus on false claims such as “eggs are dangerous for your health” or “eating meat leads to the development of cancer”, this documentary simply loses its power to instill change into people.
In conclusion, I think the film missed a great opportunity to report on the power of diet habits and confused the public even further. The vast exaggerations and poor validity lead to a discreditable film.