What The Health is a new documentary released by Netflix. It has been widely spread and very quickly became popular, but why? This documentary is graphic and discusses why a plant based diet is superior to an animal based one, not only for health reasons, but for the sake of animals and their lives as well. I support plant based diets. I am vegetarian and am slowly making the change to vegan, but this documentary is not the reason why and I would advise people who are interested in this topic to watch other films rather than this one to obtain information on the subject. I first heard about What the Health from co-workers, they said it made them change their lifestyle and go vegan. I continued to hear that people were going vegan because of this movie over a day more days before I decided to watch it. Although this documentary has some good information, there are also some statements that weren’t backed up or seemed to me to be misleading, when I looked into it further I was surprised to find that there weren’t any sources made available for what was said in the film. The official site for this documentary can be found at:
Kip Andersen is the filmmaker behind this documentary. He claims to have found the reasoning behind many chronic diseases and says with this information being released it could help to prevent or even reverse them, but Kip says health industries don’t want us to know about it. Throughout this film, Kip visits multiple health industries to interview them and ask about why they promote an animal based diet rather than plant based, but many people say that they cannot help him or they aren’t the right person with whom he should be discussing nutrition. Viewers also see Kip talking with others who are eating a plant based diet and hear voiceovers of facts and statistics. Along with What The Health, Kip is known for two more documentaries: Cowspiracy and Sea of Life. It’s clear what his topic of interest is and what message he is trying to get out to the public through all his documentaries: a plant based diet is superior. It’s hard to tell exactly how well What the Health has done in the sense of monetary value because it is available on Netflix, but it has received four stars on IMDb.
There are many documentaries about food what what should be eaten versus not eaten to live a healthy life. People are on the hunt to find out what the perfect diet is for maintaining a healthy life, but this answer is difficult because everyone’s body and life is different. Another documentary on Netflix about a similar topic is Forks Over Knives. This film is about how the Western diet is potentially the cause or a cause of many chronic diseases and how a diet of plant based whole foods could reduce and possibly eliminate these diseases. This sounds like a vegan diet, but today someone who is vegan could find processed soy proteins that create a chicken nugget like form that tastes similar to one as well, but the physician in Forks Over Knives advises to stick to minimally processed foods. This film also is created through the words of a physician who has completed studies as well as a professor of nutritional biochemistry while Kip is a movie director doing what research he can via a computer at his home, claiming he knows all the facts necessary to get rid of chronic diseases.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, one of Kip’s other films, is similar to What the Health in the sense that it is in regards to why people should eliminate animal products from their diet, but the reasoning is different. Cowspiracy discusses what is being done to our environment through the animal agriculture system. Kip claims that climate change and greenhouse gases are a by product of the animal agriculture, even though this is not what scientists say and support. Here is another way in which the films are alike, he finds something that he claims to be true and says that it is a hidden secret that industries, such as health companies and environmental organizations don’t want you to know. As the title of Cowspiracy implies, his theories tend to sound like conspiracy theories.
What the Health and other health documentaries are important. Many people in the United States are living with chronic diseases, taking multiple types of pills to get through the day, overweight, or a combination of these factors. Film is one way to get across to more people the message that they need to hear, even if scientists are still doing research and finding the information necessary to back up these findings, if a change in their diet could help in any way, they need to know. Diet changes are up and coming in our society, from vegetarian and vegan, to gluten free or paleo, people are trying to find what works best for them and their bodies. Studies do show some as more superior to others, but people are trying everything. What the Health is trying to reach anyone and everyone. Diet isn’t something that only people with diseases or are overweight should think about, but people who are healthy should think about it as well in order to prevent future issues. As I said before, What the Health isn’t the documentary I would recommend for someone who is trying to make a change in their diet, but this is due to the way it is presented. Everyone in this film is vegan and is a bit extreme in how they display their facts or word their ideas, giving some people a negative idea of vegans. When going out to eat someone shouldn’t be nervous to ask if an entree is vegan friendly for fear of being judged, but should be confident in their way of life. Vegans, such as those in this film, are the type who people think of as extreme and give others a bad name.
Despite the flaws of What the Health, it does have strengths, such as when it talks about the very real issues of how animals are treated when they are being raised for human consumption. This cannot be argued, many farms where these animals are kept aren’t sanitary nor are they proper living conditions for an animal. Some of the topics brought up about this are disgusting and I won’t go into detail about them, but I highly recommend looking into where your food comes from. Due to the impact this movie has made and how many people it has reached, it is difficult to say whether or not it is a good movie or a bad one. If we look simply at how well they do at citing their sources or how reliable the people making this film are, I would say that it’s leaning more towards bad, but if we look at how many people are changing their lifestyles to reduce or eliminate animal products I would say it’s pretty good and successful. The controversy over What the Health has made it more memorable than a lot of health documentaries and has also increased the number of people who have watched it. Due to the controversy I don’t think that it will be forgotten anytime soon, many articles are being written about what facts were skewed and some of the people interviewed in the film are coming out on their own to say more on the topic. One article I found and really liked was published by Vox, it explains how what is said in the film is true at many points, but is portrayed in the most extreme way possible. Just one point they make is how Kip says eating processed meat will increase your likelihood of colorectal cancer by 18%, but when looking at a person’s likelihood in the first place is 5%, it’s made clear that eating processed meat every day will increase your chance by 18% of that 5%, giving you a total 6% likelihood.
Reviews by doctors and others that have done research on the topic is much more important when it comes to this movie than reviews done by film critics. For the most part doctors say that when it comes to what Kip has to say, he has some accurate facts and that it is true that Americans should reduce their intake of meats and dairy products, that a vegan diet isn’t necessary for everyone. On orlandodietitian.com two dietitians wrote about their view on What the Health and a particular two sentences really stood out to me. “The reason why nutrition is such a hotly debated topic is because there is no one-size-fits all answer. There is no perfect diet.” It goes to show that no matter how hard someone tries, they can’t find a diet or lifestyle that will be the perfect match for both them and another person.
As far as my friends views on this documentary it really varies, a few people are now vegan because of it, but others critique it the way I do. My sister, who is entirely vegan, doesn’t even want to watch it after I told her about how it presents itself and the information it holds. We did our research and eat the way we do based on information we can back, both for health and animal cruelty, but I wonder if those who watch this film and change their diet after can say the same.
Overall I learned that just because a film has the word documentary used to label it doesn’t mean that it is a credible source, but it can be easy to fall into this trap. Seeing how What the Health displays their information and tweeks it so it benefits what they are saying makes me want to fact check more documentaries I watch and not take the information as true when I hear it. If a friend was to tell you that eating one egg is equally as bad for you as smoking five cigarettes (a claim made in What the Health) you probably wouldn’t believe them, so why do people believe it when it is said in a movie?