The What the Health documentary is produced by the same team behind Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. The authors look at the environmental impacts of the livestock industry, explore the link between diet and disease, and director Kip Andersen questions whether processed meat is as bad as smoking. Cancer, cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, diabetes – throughout the film, the team explores how animal-based diets can be linked to some serious and popular health problems.
Of course, as many of us try to eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains, we’ve become more mindful of processed foods like red meat, milk, and eggs. However, according to the editors of the website Vox, in the film, references to certain diets and diseases are often used out of context, and Andersen’s research results are sometimes presented in ways that can confuse viewers. Moreover, some statements are too harsh and sometimes not even true.
For example, Andersen says that one egg is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes, and eating meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. According to WHO, for each person this figure is 5%, and eating meat increases it by one unit.
“A person’s lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about five percent, and eating meat every day can increase that figure by up to six percent,” writes Vox correspondent Julia Belutz. “Thus, enjoying a strip of bacon or a salami sandwich will not increase the risk of disease, but eating meat every day can increase it by one percentage point.”
Throughout the documentary, Andersen also questions the practices of leading health organizations. In one interview, the American Diabetes Association’s chief scientist and medical officer refuses to delve into the specific dietary causes of diabetes because of the nutritional difficulties he allegedly talked about earlier. Nearly all of the medical professionals consulted in the film are themselves vegans. Some of them have published books and developed plant-based diets.
Movies like What the Health make you think not only about your diet, but also about the relationship between the food industry and healthcare. But it’s important to keep balance in mind. While the background information in the film is not false, it does distort reality in places and can be misleading. While the film’s goal is to make people think about what they’re eating, it’s still delivered too harshly.