Making its way to Netflix comes a documentary created by Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans. The film, “The Magic Pill,” was released in 2017 and focuses on the ketogenic diet, making several strong claims about its effects that doctors have called misleading, and perhaps even dangerous.
The ketogenic diet claims to be “a low carb, moderate protein and high-fat diet which puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.” Deceptive messaging for diets, such as the ketogenic, has long been allowed in diet culture; whether it’s a pill or a dietary change, media outlets manipulate and misinform consumers about how certain diets can affect their lives.
Even the title of the documentary raises a red flag. Taking a name, such as “The Magic Pill,” is a common tactic marketers use since the typical dieting pill claims that one “simple change” can cure sickness or cause a person to lose weight, despite the fact that most professionals would agree that there are many different factors that affect weight and health. There isn’t a “magic” solution to health problems without looking at other lifestyle factors, such as exercise and sleep patterns.
As for the film, “The Magic Pill” solely acknowledges these disclaimers through a note at the beginning. The opening statement says, “The personal stories displayed in this film are anecdotal, and we make no claims that these experiences are typical,” and goes on to suggest consulting a doctor before trying a new diet. This type of messaging influences people and no introductory line to relieve liability can soften the blow.
Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers provide misleading evidence to back up their assertions that the ketogenic diet works. For example, the film implies that the scientific method is used, though the sample size is too small to have any meaningful impact. Yet, viewers see what they wish to see; if they support this kind of diet, they won’t look or think about the analytics.
So, why is this type of diet logic so common in media? Fake news is problematic and is publicly seen as such, but the manipulative content regarding diets often flies under the radar. In a culture that glorifies dieting and coveting a certain body type, consumers are bombarded with information about food that may be fraudulent or misleading.
This is not without harm, as is clear with what is provided in “The Magic Pill.” Viewers may find it easy to walk away from this film thinking that a high-fat, low-carb diet will solve all chronic health problems, especially when the filmmakers themselves admit that these claims are purely anecdotal.
Many documentaries such as Evans’ function under the guise of correcting misinformation and casting doubt upon anyone who contradicts, including medical professionals. In an already confusing environment of diet culture, sites like Netflix should at least create their own content warnings for media that may be misleading.
In the meantime, though, this small controversy shows that media literacy is more important than ever — don’t skip that warning at the beginning!