Critics of the Documentary “What the Health” Can Just Go to Health!

Whether or not you agree with the new documentary on Netfilx “What The Health”, it appears to be a steamroller that cannot be stopped in terms of a viral response to the number of people viewing and discussing the movie. I have done a local TV segment on it because two senior reporters viewed it and were motivated to make some immediate health changes (for the better). If you have the time and a large bottle of antacids, you can search the discussion of the film on the Internet and see the overwhelming positive response to the film with the predictable critics creating heartburn. If I were a physician, health expert, journalist with books to sell, or an industry supporting the sale of eggs, meat and dairy, it has been a rough year and this documentary is driving the stake (not steak) in deeper. One of these, known by the dubious name of ZDoggMD, crossed the line of propriety and I called him out on it. Can a researcher and physician have a diet preference and still have scientific objectivity about the scope of nutritional science? Author Nina Teicholz has suggested otherwise and got her name prominently broadcasted in Beef Magazine for her efforts. I say bullcrap. When it is proven that eggs, meat and cheese reverse serious cases of atherosclerosis I will recommend that diet to my patients as an option to the proven plant-based programs studied by the Pritikin Longevity Center, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

Last night I had an opportunity to view the documentary again in a public viewing raising money for an animal rescue operation. I watched the film and the reaction of the audience. I offer the following observations.

  1. Sugar Good or Bad? There has been much conversation about the pathogenesis of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes offered by Drs. Neal Barnard and Garth Davis, both active clinicians and respected authors and scientists in their field. I was interviewed for the film over 3 years ago and provided over 2 hours of film coverage. My comments were edited down to about 3 minutes in film. I had no input (or pay) on the comments chosen and actually did not know if I made it into the film until I viewed the trailer which starts with my voice. I am certain that the same sequence occured for these 2 doctors and their hours of comments are on the cutting floor. It is always a risk to have your comments selected out and Drs. Barnard and Davis can determine if they need to add the rest of their interview to their readership. All clinicians favor a reduction in dietary added sugar in foods, sweetened beverages and condiments. There is NO argument from any food group, except perhaps the sugar industry and its spokespeople, that sugar consumption has increased greatly and needs to be reduced. Even the famed scientist Ancel Keys, Ph.D., often tagged with the term “demonic” for “ignoring” the risks of sugar vs. saturated fat, advised a reduction in dietary sugar in his writings. What The Health is a movie, not a CME medical conference. It is not peer reviewed and should not be held to the standards of those vehicles of medical education. If you do not like it, don’t watch it.
  2. Big Farm, Pharma, Food. The primary focus of the movie is exploring the role of some of the major components of the American food and health system as represented by the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the Susan G Komen Foundation and other entities. Noone is disputing that the film did not do a service to viewers highlighting the inexcusable conflict and hypocrisy that exists for these organizations to take monies from some of the very groups that produce foods linked to chronic diseases. Not all members of the public know this and the movie did a great service exposing this topic. I have been president of a local chapter of the American Heart Association and appreciate the important work they have done in public education including CPR training. Should they put their mark of approval for profit on refined foods and dozens of meat products found on their website? I would argue NO and the same is true for the hypocritical recipes on the websites of the other organizations. Will What The Health cause a change in the policies of these organizations? Time will tell but I predict it is likely.
  3. USDA Checkoff Programs. How many people are familiar with the Checkoff programs described in the film? Or the Ag-Gag laws? Do the outrageous funds and law serve the public or USDA officials and Big Farming? This powerful segment of the film produced shock in the faces I viewed last night and hopefully will be a source of change.
  4. CAFOs. The footage of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and their waste are a reality in the USA and 95% or more of beef, poultry, and eggs are produced in this dishonorable and cruel manner. No matter how much critics hide behind the facade of grass-fed beef, free range poultry, and cage free eggs, the reality is almost all of these products are produced as shown in the film and are causing environmental damage and health issues with surrounding neighborhoods.
  5. Pus in Milk. Sorry critics, there is pus in milk and mastitis is a common infection in dairy cows. The crowd I viewed last night was visibly upset to learn of this real life fact. As far as we now, their is no pus in almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk, or the dozen other choices.
  6. One Egg is 5 Cigarettes. The filmmakers did not make up this fact that has been ridiculed on the web. It derives from a large research trial led by a well respected academic research physician (who I believe chooses to eat plants which in my opinion is of no consequence given his senior position). Of course, there are likely studies that offer other statistics but in my view, the public benefited from the warning about both smoking and a food rich in saturated fat and choline that promotes the production of trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) discussed by Michael Klaper, MD.
  7. Processed meat as a Carcinogen. Quite a bit of time was spent early in What The Health reviewing the powerful announcement by the World Health Organization and its International Agency for Research on Cancer in October, 2015 that a panel of scientists had reviewed extensive literature to determine that bacon and its pals cause colorectal and other cancers and joined other Group 1 carcinogens. The science behind the determination of the WHO in relation to meat and cancer has been verified by other researchers. About 34,000 deaths a year are attributed worldwide to the ingestion of processed red meats. The documentary asked the question whether health agencies should continue to promote these foods in recipes in view of the WHO analysis. It is my opinion that hospitals and health agencies must be held to a higher standard of ethical conduct when it comes to health and the documentary fairly portrayed the alarm and disgust the public should have for the failure of hospitals particularly to ban processed red meats.

At the end of the day, the public will decide if they find the documentary helpful and relevant. So far, signs are it is getting 2 thumbs up from the majority of viewers and the reports of increased business at restaurants serving healthy fare is something all health experts should welcome. The public struggles to get credible information to guide their health choices and if some choose to eat less eggs, dairy and meat after viewing What The Health, they may be moving towards a Mediterranean Diet pattern or Vegetarian pattern endorsed by the latest USDA guidelines. It is doubtful more people will flock to Pizza Hut for the cheese filled crust after viewing the movie. With that in mind, I say “Go to health!” to the critics, including prominent physicians, who seem to only endorse dietary patterns with ever more meat, poultry, full fat dairy, and eggs. Bullcrap.