A new documentary that’s executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix is coming under fire from doctors and scientists over its bold claims about the adverse effects of consuming eggs and meat. A recent arrival on Netflix, What the Health asserts that eating one egg per day is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes, and consuming a single portion of processed meat increases the risk of diabetes by 51 percent. These facts are listed on the documentary’s homepage, along with links to sources from medical journals. But now, a handful of venerable doctors and scientists tell the Times UK that these sources can’t be trusted.
Alexandra Freeman, the executive director of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, says the statistic about eggs is from “an extremely controversial paper,” while a cancer researcher named Alice Howarth remarks: “What the Health overwhelms the viewer with scaremongering ‘facts’ which do not hold up to scientific investigation.” As for the meat-diabetes connection, that statistic comes from one journal that cited the relative risk of increase, not the absolute risk. Freeman notes: “An ‘increase’ can be made to look huge, but if it’s an increase from a tiny value to another tiny value then that puts a whole different perspective on it.”
Two of the frequently listed sources on the film’s homepage are the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Nutritionfacts.org, both of which, the Times points out, are pro-vegan organizations. The film’s producer, director, and celebrity backer are also vegans. And yet the Netflix description doesn’t mention anything about veganism.
The streaming platform describes this as a look at “the link between diet and disease, and the billions of dollars at stake in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and food industries.” Netflix didn’t produce this documentary, but with the release of What the Health and the anti animal-slaughter fantasy Okja, the streaming titan has been bulking up on its vegan-friendly content lately.
For more on how What the Health fudges the fact surrounding veganism and meat and dairy consumption, check out Vox’s thorough explainer on the film.