A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that What the Health is a documentary by the makers of Cowspiracy about the relationship between diet and health. Strong negative messages, mostly using scare tactics and brief gore, assert that eating any meat or animal product causes cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more. Positive messages about the many benefits of eating a plant-based (vegan) diet aren't as strong but are what the movie ends on. Some gore is shown in meat processing and in surgical procedures; the images may be upsetting to any viewer, but especially those who are sensitive or squeamish. The filmmakers use unabashed scare tactics, like saying that eating one egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes a day, and animated images of plane crashes to show how many people die from cardiovascular disease. Smoking is used to compare how bad something is for your health. For mature viewers ready to engage with the tough subject, it's a good place to start a discussion about the benefits of a plants-only diet, scientific accuracy, the role big food and pharmaceutical companies play in our eating habits, and ways to evaluate claims that seem too good to be true.
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What's the story?
In WHAT THE HEALTH, filmmaker Kip Andersen finds some studies that turn what he thought he knew about the relationship between diet and health on its head. More surprising and disturbing are his discovery that many prominent health organizations offer diet advice that directly contradicts these studies. So he sets out to get some answers from several of them. The information, or lack of it, that he finds when asking simple, direct questions urges him to keep digging, until eventually he learns about the relationship between these organizations and big food and pharmaceutical companies. What is the truth about what causes cancer, diabetes, heart disease? And can a plants-only (vegan) diet really provide complete nutrition for healthier living?
Is it any good?
Documentarian Kip Andersen isn't pulling any punches in his quest to convince us that all meat and animal products cause disease. What the Health provides a long list of the evils associated with eating meat, for individuals as well as for the larger world, with images that are often grotesque (serving a child a plateful of cigarettes) or gory (draining pus, anyone?). Unfortunately, so many scare tactics loaded heavily into the front of the movie leave the viewer feeling more browbeaten than informed.
Which is unfortunate, because he raises a lot of good questions about the sources of our information about diet and health, and about the relationship between prominent health organizations and big food and pharma companies. The positive, beneficial side of adopting a vegan diet is always there, but it doesn't come to the forefront until the very end. And by then, a lot of the claims have an infomercial, too-good-to-be-true feel that raises skepticism. Best for non-squeamish teens and up who are ready to take a hard look at what they eat and why, and who are ready to learn how to evaluate claims for themselves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how What the Health conveys its messages. How do they talk about and show meat and animal products versus eating only plants? How do the images and words affect your emotional reaction to the information conveyed?
How can you evaluate the claims made in this movie?
If you weren't already a vegan, do you want to switch to a plants-only diet now? Why or why not?
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