Film: What The Health Summary

What The Health Summary
What The Health Summary

What The Health Summary

San Francisco filmmaker Kip Andersen introduces his 2017 documentary What the Health with a look at his family medical history. Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer all lurk in his genes.

Given that pedigree, he once spent lots of time worrying about his health. Then the day came when the World Health Organization announced it was classifying processed meats as Group 1 carcinogens, in the same category as tobacco and plutonium.

What the Health shows footage of various news anchors breaking the news with great solemnity:

“Processed meat’s directly involved in causing cancer in humans.” 

“Processed meat is clearly linked to an increase in cancer.’’

“Hot dogs or bacon could be just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.” 

Kip then examines the foundation of WHO’s decision:

The World Health Organization looked at over 800 different studies from 10 different countries finding a direct link to consuming processed meat and cancer.”

What the Health, however, also examines processed meat’s link to Kip’s other big concerns, diabetes and heart disease.

Much of it tracks his attempts to interview people of power at organizations supposedly dedicated to fighting these diseases. Their defensive reactions when asked about a link between diet and health led to some uncomfortable moments.

One occurred during Kip’s meeting with Dr. Robert Ratner, M.D., the American Diabetes Association’s Chief Scientific and Medical Officer. When Kip brought up peer-reviewed studies suggesting that a plant-based diet could actually prevent or reverse diabetes, Dr. Ratner was having none of it.

Visibly upset with the direction of the conversation, he simply responded “Any diet works, any diet works if people follow it,” and terminated the interview.

Although shaken by the tense exchange, Kip returned home determined to discover why the ADA’s Chief Scientist was so touchy on the subject.

The breakthrough came when he googled “American Diabetes Association Sponsor.” Within seconds, he learned the organization was taking millions of dollars from some of the largest processed meat and dairy producers, including Kraft, Bumble Bee and Dannon.

After that, it was a simple matter of finding the sponsors of all the other health-related groups who’d been unwilling to answer his questions about diet. The connections were more than chilling:

  • Tyson (chicken) and Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell) help fund the American Heart Association.

  • KFC, Yoplait and Dietz & Watson (ham, cheese and processed meat snacks) donate to Susan G. Komen’s breast-cancer research efforts.

  • The American Heart Association, however, may have most apparent conflicts of interest. Its sponsors include five state Beef Councils and the processed food giants Cargill, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Nestle, and Pepsico.

In Kip’s words:

“Every single one of these organizations was taking money from meat and dairy companies which are associated with the causes of these diseases. This is would be like the American Lung Association taking money from the tobacco industry.”

But these organizations aren’t alone in ignoring the diet-disease link. Every five years, a U.S. federal commission releases new dietary guidelines supposedly based on the latest research. But its members also receive food-industry dollars.

As Dr. Garth Davis, MD tells Kip:

“The USDA… has two missions. It is supposed to protect us and it is supposed to protect the producer. And guess what? When those two come head to head, they usually protect the producer.”

Throw in the amount of pharmaceutical- company money flooding into health research organizations?

The reason for discouraging plant-based eating becomes obvious. There are simply many more riches to be made from treating these diseases than from preventing or curing them.

One hospital administrator was caught on camera bluntly giving Kip the reason for refusing him entry to conduct a scheduled interview with a doctor about preventive medicine. She said,

“The hospital makes money off these surgeries… So, we can’t do anything that is going to negatively impact the hospital.” 

The hospital was actively suppressing information that would lead to people recovering before their surgeries.

Kip walked away shaking his head feeling awful that the hospital putting profit about disease prevention.

It’s an attitude diametrically opposed to the one Dr. Michael Klaper, MD expresses towards the end of What the Health in which he challenges all of us to eat plant-based in order to see profound changes in national health and the environment.

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