What the Health
What the Health is a 2017 documentary film which critiques the health impact of meat and dairy products consumption, and questions the practices of the leading health and pharmaceutical organizations. Its primary purpose is to advocate for a plant-based diet.
The documentary has been criticized by a number of medical doctors, dietitians, and investigative journalists for what they describe as confusing causation with correlation, cherry picking science studies, using biased sources, distorting study findings, and using "weak-to-non-existent data".
Advertised as "The Health Film That Health Organizations Don't Want You To See", the film follows Kip Andersen as he interviews physicians and other individuals regarding diet and health. Andersen is also shown attempting to contact representatives of various health organizations, but comes away dissatisfied with their responses. Through other interviews he examines the alleged connection between the meat, dairy, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as various health organizations. The synopsis is that serious health problems are a consequence of consuming meat and dairy products, and that a conspiracy exists to cover this up.
What the Health was funded via an Indiegogo campaign in March 2016, raising more than $235,000. The film was released globally on Vimeo on March 16, 2017, and screenings licensed through Tugg Inc.
The following doctors were featured in the film:
- Milton Mills (physician, plant-based advocate, author)
- Garth Davis (bariatric surgeon, plant-based advocate, author)
- Michael Greger (physician, vegetarianism advocate, author)
- Michael Klaper (physician, veganism advocate, author)
- Neal Barnard (clinical researcher, author, founder of vegan-advocacy group PCRM)
- Caldwell Esselstyn (physician, vegetarianism advocate, author)
- Kim A. Williams (cardiologist, president of ACC)
- John McDougall (physician, vegetarian food company owner, author)
A number of non-physicians were also interviewed:
- Michele Simon (public health lawyer, author)
- Steve-O (comedian, actor in Jackass)
- Ryan Shapiro (historian of national security, MIT)
- David Carter (former NFL defensive lineman)
- Timothy Shieff (world champion freerunner, Ninja Warrior)
- Tia Blanco (professional surfer, double ISA World Surfing champion)
The documentary has drawn criticism from many, including scientific skeptics, who contend that it misrepresents facts:
- On July 3, 2017, medical doctor and founder of Turntable Health, Zubin Damania, acting in his ZDoggMD persona, reviewed What the Health on his YouTube channel. Damania agreed with the documentary's assertion that a diet heavy in processed food was associated with negative health effects:0:50 and that the Food and Drug Administration sometimes offered "stupid nutrition recommendations" regarding recommending a uniform solution for everyone.:9:35 However, he also commented in detail on what he characterized as frequent confirmation bias and cherry-picking of selected data, as well as the oversimplification of complex health issues and rampant misinformation which he observed in the documentary.:5:40 He also highlighted what he saw as the ridiculous claim made of "institutionalized racism" on the part of the dairy industry.:9:00 Damania concluded in exasperation: "that was the stupidest [expletive] thing I've ever seen... I feel like I've lost [expletive] brain cells". Joel Kahn, a cardiologist featured in the film, responded to ZDoggMD's video via a Medium article titled "Why ZDoggMD and His Toilet Humor Are Best Flushed and Forgotten".
- On July 11, 2017, medical doctor and scientific skeptic Harriet Hall, known as the SkepDoc, reviewed the documentary on Science-Based Medicine. Her opinion was summarized as follows: "What the Health espouses the fairy tale that all major diseases... can be prevented and cured by eliminating meat and dairy from the diet. It is a blatant polemic for veganism, biased and misleading, and is not a reliable source of scientific information." At the end of her article she concludes by asserting positive aspects of a plant based diet with "There are undisputed health advantages to a plant-based diet ..." and "We as a society should eat more plant foods ..." but counterpoints this with "... the evidence is insufficient to recommend that everyone adopt a vegan diet" and "we needn’t entirely reject all animal foods". Finally, she recommends moderation in all things.
- On July 20, 2017, emeritus professor in nutrition Martijn Katan from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam called the film "propaganda", which exaggerates the health risks of meat, eggs and dairy, and rather dangerously claims veganism prevents or cures just about any disease, like cancer or diabetes. However, he stressed that everyone should eat less meat than the population currently does on average, and that going completely vegan can be a healthy lifestyle if you make sure you get all nutrients you need (though this is hard to do for young children, for whom he did not recommend a vegan diet) and it's also good for the environment.
- Sarah Berry, Lifestyle Health Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald commented that "What the Health does make some valid points including concerns about the influence of Big Food on dietary recommendations and about poor farming practices, which can be both inhumane and bad for the planet," adding that "The makers cherry-pick science, use biased sources, distort study findings and use 'weak-to-non-existent data ...'" Berry quoted Dr. Joanna McMillan as saying that "To me it's the usual product of those who are filmmakers and not nutrition scientists or trained in any aspect of medicine or science, therefore not trained or qualified to make sense of scientific research."
- In a review of the film, investigative journalist Nina Teicholz on DietDoctor.com praised the filmmakers' skills of persuasion, but concluded that the film's claims are not backed by scientific evidence.
- On August 8, 2017, writing for Quartz, Chase Purdy said that "By cherry-picking nutrition studies to make rickety claims, the makers of What the Health risk ratcheting up fear of certain foods based on weak science. It’s not a responsible way to try and change people’s behavior, and it does a disservice to nutritional scientists in the field."
- Zubin Damania MD. "A Doctor Watches "What The Health"". ZDoggMD. Archived from the original on July 29, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- Hall MD, Harriet (11 July 2017). "What the Health: A Movie with an Agenda". Science-Based Medicine. Archived from the original on July 29, 2017.
- Virginia Messina, MPH RD. "A Vegan Dietitian Reviews "What the Health"". Vegan.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- Penner RD. Jessica. "what the health review – the good, the bad, and the ugly". Smart Nutrition. Archived from the original on July 29, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
- Susie Burrell (July 21, 2017). "Nutritionist Susie Burrell reviews Netflix's new documentary What The Health". news.com.au.
- Julia Belluz (July 25, 2017). "Debunking What the Health, the buzzy new documentary that wants you to be vegan: The film on Netflix mischaracterizes what we know about food and disease". Vox.
- "'What the Health' Review: Health Claims Backed by No Solid Evidence - Diet Doctor". 18 July 2017.
- Charles Mandel (February 8, 2016). "DiCaprio-backed Cowspiracy directors find new conspiracy to milk".
- Michael D'Estries (February 11, 2016). "The guys behind 'Cowspiracy' are back to tackle personal health". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
- Jackie Day (January 23, 2016). "Cowspiracy Film Makers Announce NEW film: What the Health!". My Vegan Journal.
- "What the Health". Indiegogo. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
- Anna Starostinetskaya (April 15, 2016). "Vegan Filmmakers Raise Money to Qualify for Oscars". VegNews. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
- "Watch What the Health Online". Vimeo On Demand. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
- "What the Health". Tugg.com. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
- "About the film". www.whatthehealthfilm.com. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
- Damania, Zubin. "A Doctor Watches "What The Health"". Youtube.com. Retrieved 9 July 2017.; note that expletives were censored with beeps in Damania's review.
- Kahn, Joel (2017-07-06). "Why ZDoggMD and His Toilet Humor Are Best Flushed and Forgotten". Medium. Retrieved 2017-07-14.
- Hall, Harriet. "What the Health: A Movie with an Agenda". Sciencebasedmedicine.org. Science Based Medicine. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
- "Aflevering 139". RTL Late Night (in Dutch). RTL 4. 20 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
- Berry, Sarah (20 July 2017). "What the Health: Netflix documentary trades on 'alternative facts' about veganism" – via The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Nina Teicholz (July 18, 2017). "'What the Health' Review: Health Claims Backed by No Solid Evidence". Diet Doctor.
- Purdy, Chase. "Hollywood vegans are trying to convince you eggs are as bad as cigarettes—that's irresponsible and wrong". Quartz. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
- Hedges, Chris (9 July 2017). "Eating Our Way to Disease". Truthdig. Retrieved 10 July 2017.