Opinion: Eating one egg isn’t ‘the same as smoking five cigarettes’

The Netflix documentary “What the Health” may have good intentions, but skewed statistics have left many viewers skeptical.


Illustration by Ivan Benavides

Thomas Chiles, Features Editor

W hile watching “What the Health,” one thing is certain — you won’t be eating any meat while the movie is on.

The documentary has attracted a fair amount of controversy since being added to Netflix on June 16. In the film, director Kip Anderson attempts to expose how consuming animal products can be detrimental to our health.

Why all the controversy?

At face value, “What the Health” seems like your average pro-vegan documentary. But early on in the film, edited video clips show parents cooking tobacco products and feeding it to their kids. This overly dramatized attempt at drawing a connection between animal products and poor health comes off forced and over the top.

Unfortunately, the film is presented from a very slanted position. Many of the people involved in the documentary are vegans, including director Anderson, film producers, and even some of the film’s funders. Most interviews are done with vegan doctors or advocates and the two most cited websites are pro-vegan.

Then come the questionable statistics. During the film, Anderson cites sources that make some pretty harsh claims about the negative health effects of certain foods, like his claim that milk causes cancer. One of the most controversial stats in the film claims that eating one egg a day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes a day.

Scientists have refuted many of the statistical claims made in the film, including the egg/cigarette one. A director from Cambridge University said that one egg a day being the same as smoking five cigarettes a day was sourced to an “extremely controversial paper.”

Anderson also misleads viewers when he says that eating processed meat greatly increases your chance of cancer. While eating processed meat can boost your overall chance of cancer to 6 percent, that is an increase of just one percentage point from the average person’s lifetime risk of colon-related cancer at 5 percent.

The pros

  • The film attempts to open a dialogue about the link between our diet and disease, something that should be discussed more in our country.
  • You at least recognize Anderson’s passion in this film, even if you don’t agree with him. He really does want to make people healthier, and he believes the best way to do that is to cut out any and all animal products.

The cons

  • The film uses fear-mongering statistics to try to scare people into a vegan lifestyle. While being a vegan may very well be a healthy, if not the healthiest, lifestyle choice, the film does not reinforce this claim well enough with concrete evidence.
  • Anderson makes it seem as if exercise and eliminating all animal products from your diet will make you immune to diseases, almost downplaying genetic predispositions.

The film might be worth a watch just because of all the controversy surrounding it, but take what you read with a large grain of salt.

Grade: C-

Thomas Chiles is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thomas_iv.