What the Health is a documentary that was released in 2017 directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn.
The film follows director Kip Andersen as he interviews several physicians with whom many of us are familiar–Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, and others.
Andersen also interviews (or tries to) several representatives of various health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Unfortunately, he is shut down before getting answers to his questions about the links between diet and health.
You can listen to our podcast where we discuss the film or read on for a quick summary.
What the Health, Controversy
One of the biggest points of controversy deals with the root cause of diabetes. There are doctors who say that diabetes is caused by fat in the blood, rather than sugar or carbohydrates as is typically cited. Sugar is introduced into cells via insulin. These doctors claim that fat in the blood and muscle fibers interferes with insulin, preventing sugar from getting into the cells and causing sugar to build up in the bloodstream (diabetes). Diabetes then, according to some, results from fat toxicity in our organs. While sugar can certainly exacerbate diabetes it’s not solely responsible for causing it.
Given this and numerous studies linking the consumption of meat and animal byproducts to major health issues such as diabetes, Andersen is puzzled as to why non-profit organizations such as the American Diabetes Association would include recipes containing meat in their recommended diets. This is where things get ugly. Andersen was chewed out by Robert Ratner, then Chief Scientific & Medical Officer for the American Diabetes Association (Ratner left the ADA in 2017, the same year What the Health was released), for asking so many questions about the links between meat and diabetes. The doctor ended up storming out of the room.
When Andersen did further research, he discovered that many of these organizations are sponsored by factory farming industries including dairy and meat, and by corporations such as Dannon and Tyson. One particularly heart-stopping revelation was that the American Heart Association receives support from the Texas Beef Council! Additionally, these organizations also receive money from the pharmaceutical industry.
Another alarming fact is that the government organizations that create the US Dietary Guidelines–Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA)–are filled with members who receive money from corporations.
It really should come as no surprise that critics of the film have accused Andersen and Kuhn of cherry-picking facts and case studies to support the film’s claims. It’s been called propaganda that has the goal of pushing a vegan agenda by exaggerating the risks of eating animal products. Something I heard in another video offers an excellent explanation for this type of criticism–“We love finding good excuses for our bad behaviors.”
What the Health Fact Check
Critics of the film say that the producers are engaging in fear-mongering behavior by “cherry-picking” certain facts to coerce people into adopting a vegan diet. Ironically, one critical article I read was titled “Debunking What the Health, The Buzzy New Documentary that Wants You to be Vegan.” This is a great example of critics of the film trying to scare omnivores into thinking people are “coming for their meat and dairy.” Just like liberals are “coming for your guns.”
Most sources that claim to “debunk” What the Health like to call attention to a statement made in the film about processed meat being as bad for you as cigarettes. The context of this is, of course, usually not cited. Taken in context, the point being made is that, like cigarettes, processed meat has been classified by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen, putting it in the same carcinogenic category as tobacco.
Let’s put the science aside since this seems to be the point of so much contention. The mere fact that so many of the non-profit organizations and government agencies we entrust with our health are sponsored by big business should give us cause for alarm.
We hope this review has given you some insight into What the Health. Despite the controversy, we feel that it’s a solidly researched, well-presented documentary that offers valuable information about the struggle plant-based lifestyle advocates and experts face with agri-business entities, government agencies, and the pharmaceutical industry. We also hope that it will inspire you, as it has us, to continue to research these topics so that you can make educated decisions about these matters.
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