It’s a shame what Bill Maher has been saying about the obesity epidemic. Back in 2019, Maher literally asked people to “fat shame” more on his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” This was kind of like telling people to bully others more, as I covered for Forbes. Now, in the latest episode of his show, Maher complained that America has “gone from fat acceptance to fat celebration.” Maher claimed as well that “There’s a disturbing trend going on in America these days with rewriting science to fit ideology or just to fit what you want reality to be,” as you can see in following tweet from Maher and the accompanying video:
Just to be clear, Maher is not a scientist. He also didn’t present any real scientific studies during his segment or bring any real scientists and experts on the subject on to to this show. So, hmmm, was he presenting actual science or rather his ideology or what he wants reality to be?
Maher went on to say, “to view you yourself letting go as a point of pride? We used to try to be fit and healthy, and society praised those who succeeded. Now the term ‘body positivity’ is used to mean, ‘I’m perfect the way I am because I’m me.’” Umm, who said body positivity is supposed to be about saying, “I’m perfect the way I am because I’m me?” While some people may have twisted that message, real health professionals who are experts in the area have not been saying that anyone should believe that they are perfect. Life is about constantly trying to improve. It’s not as if doctors are telling patients, “You are perfect, don’t do anything,” or scientific journal articles are saying, “Everyone is perfect. The end.” Regardless of what your body mass index (BMI), your current lifestyle, or your general health may be, you always have room to improve.
Instead, body positivity is about understanding that one size or one shape does not fit all. If, for example, everyone were supposed to look like Lebron James, then Maher would have a lot of work to do. Instead, body positivity is about understanding that a given person can do everything right, such as eat healthily and exercise a lot, but still never have the same body size as someone who can eat an all-hot dog and pizza diet yet still look like Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy.
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Therefore, when Maher continued with “‘Healthy at any weight’ is an unchallenged lie that people tell themselves so that they can go on and eat anything they want,” he was not accurately portraying what the phrase really is and means. First of all, the more established term is Health at Every Size (HAES). And this doesn’t mean that you can just eat anything you want and not exercise and add extra weight with no consequence. Instead, it means that body size (or weight) is just one measure that alone may not necessarily reflect a person’s health. Otherwise, someone who is just skin and bones and eats nothing but paint chips all day would be considered the healthiest of the healthy.
Later during his rant, Maher asserted, “At some point, acceptance becomes enabling. And if you are in any way participating in this joyful celebration of gluttony that goes on now, you have blood on your hands. Full stop.” Again, who exactly is having a “joyful celebration of gluttony?” Have any real obesity experts actually said, “Yay, gluttony?” Maher called Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of Conscience Health, a “Fat activist.” But advocating against weight-based and body size-based bias and discrimination is not being a “fat activist,” which sounds like someone is actually pushing for the interests of adipose tissue. Here Kyle explains for the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) how stigma hinders proper treatment of obesity:
Maybe next time Maher can bring Kyle on his show so that everyone can hear directly from Kyle what he’s been saying?
Maher’s rant included the following statement as well: “Nike, Sports Illustrated, Victoria’s Secret, companies that are specifically about fitness nevertheless promote people who are plainly not into fitness.” OK, fitness company may not be the first thing that you think of when you mention Victoria’s Secret. A lot of their lingerie is probably not designed specifically for spinning class or the 100 meter hurdles. Moreover, in that statement, Maher was doing exactly what anti-bias advocates have warned against doing: assuming that someone of a certain body size is “plainly not into fitness.” Maybe Maher should go visit some NFL linemen and tell them to their faces that they are plainly not into fitness because they are beyond a certain body weight.
Throughout his rant, Maher continued to advance stereotypes of those who may have larger body sizes or higher body mass indices (BMI), which caught the ire of those on social media such as:
Near the end of Maher’s rant, Maher acted as if he already knew how to solve the obesity epidemic and that it’s simply a matter of telling people to be less gluttonous. This way oversimplifies the obesity epidemic and overlooks a lot of the scientific studies that have shown the many other factors that may be contributing to the obesity epidemic. As I have written before many times for Forbes, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International, and Nutrition Reviews, the obesity epidemic is a systems problem and not one that can be solved with the single simple solution of just telling everyone to eat less and exercise more. That was attempted in the 1990’s and the 200o’s, and again the 2010’s. To simply blame individuals neglects the fact that a lot in our society has changed since the 1980’s when obesity rates began rising such as our food supply having more and more processed foods with more and more additives. Some on Twitter wondered aloud (because you can’t really wonder silently on Twitter) why Maher didn’t say more about the food industry like the following:
The composition of food may be playing a major role. But it’s probably not the only culprit. Anytime a major public health problem continues to exist, a system of different factors are involved. In the past several decades that have corresponded to the continuing rise in obesity rates, there have other changes such as people being exposed to all kinds of new chemicals in the environment, towns and cities becoming less walkable, and work becoming even more sedentary. Furthermore, the obesity epidemic has paralleled the rise of other health problems such as other chronic medical conditions and loneliness and mental health issues that started in the 1980’s and have continued upward trends in the decades since. So chances are some of the same factors are contributing to each of these different trends.
This certainly isn’t the first time that Maher has ranted about a scientific issue yet not included real scientific experts on the show. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he’s criticized vaccines and face mask use while talking about using ivermectin for Covid-19. One Twitterer pointed out how lot of things Maher said on his most recent show was a bit of a shame:
Maher was right about one thing: the “disturbing trend going on in America these days with rewriting science to fit ideology or just to fit what you want reality to be.” Would an example of such a trend be a talk show where the host talks about a scientific topic but doesn’t really bring on verified scientific experts to talk about that topic?