It’s a shame what Bill Maher has said 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 a bit like telling people to bully others more, which I covered for Forbes. Now, on the latest episode of his show, Maher lamented that America has “moved from fat acceptance to fat celebration.” Maher also claimed that “There is a disturbing trend going on in America these days of rewriting science to fit ideology or just to fit what you want reality to be,” as you can see in the following tweet from Maher and the accompanying video:
Just to be clear, Maher is not a scientist. He also did not present any real scientific studies during his segment or bring any real scientists and experts on the subject to this show. So, hmmm, was he actually presenting science or rather his ideology or what he wants reality to be?
Maher went on to say, “to see 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 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 haven’t who are experts in the field have said that people should think they are perfect. Life is about constantly trying to improve. It’s not as if doctors tell patients, ‘You’re perfect, don’t do anything,’ or scientific journal articles say : “Everyone is perfect. The end.” Whatever your body mass index (BMI), your current lifestyle or your overall health may be, there is always room for improvement.
Instead, body positivity is about understanding that one size or one shape does not fit all. For example, if everyone were to look like Lebron James, Maher would have a lot of work to do. Instead, body positivity is about understanding that a given person can do everything right, like eat healthy and exercise a lot, but still never have the same body size as someone who can eat a hot dog and pizza diet but still look like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Therefore, when Maher went on to say “‘Healthy at any weight’ is an unchallenged lie that people tell themselves so they can go ahead and eat whatever they want,” he is 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 does not mean that you can just eat whatever you want and not exercise and add extra weight without consequence. Instead, it means that body size (or weight) is just one measure that alone does 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 claimed, “At some point acceptance becomes possible. And if you participate in any way in this joyous celebration of gluttony going on now, you’ve got blood on your hands. Full stop.” Again, who exactly has a “joyful celebration of gluttony?” Have any real obesity experts actually said, “Yes, gluttony?” Maher called Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of Conscience Health, a “fat activist.” But advocating 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 American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) how stigma prevents proper treatment of obesity:
Maybe next time Maher can bring Kyle on his show so everyone can hear directly from Kyle what he has been saying?
Maher’s statement also included the following statement: “Nike, Sports Illustrated, Victoria’s Secret, companies that are specifically about fitness, yet promote people who are clearly not interested in exercise.” OK, fitness company might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Victoria’s Secret. Much of their underwear is probably not designed specifically for the spinning class or the 100m hurdles. Moreover, in that statement, Maher did exactly what anti-bias advocates have warned against doing: assuming that someone of a certain body size is “obviously out of shape.” Maybe Maher should visit some NFL linemen and tell them to their faces that they are clearly out of shape because they are over a certain body weight.
Throughout the rant, Maher continued to promote stereotypes about those who may have larger body sizes or higher body mass indexes (BMIs), which caught the ire of those on social media who:
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 approach simplifies the obesity epidemic and overlooks many of the scientific studies that have shown the many other factors that can contribute to the obesity epidemic. As I have written before many times for Forbes, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International, and Nutrition reviews, the obesity epidemic is a systemic problem and not one that can be solved with the simple solution of just telling everyone to eat less and exercise more. Attempts were made in the 1990s and 2000s, and again in the 2010s. Simply blaming individuals overlooks the fact that much has changed in our society since the 1980s when obesity levels began to rise, such that our food supply has more and more processed foods with more and more additives. Someone on Twitter wondered aloud (because you can’t really wonder quietly on Twitter) why Maher didn’t say more about the food industry like the following:
The composition of the food can play a big role. But it is probably not the only culprit. Whenever a major public health problem persists, a system of different factors is involved. Over the past few decades, which have corresponded with the continued rise in obesity, other changes have occurred 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 problems that started in the 1980s and have continued upward trends in the decades since. So chances are that some of the same factors are contributing to each of these different trends.
This is certainly not the first time Maher has spoken out on a scientific issue, but not including real scientific experts on the show. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he has criticized vaccines and the use of face masks while talking about the use of ivermectin for Covid-19. One Twitterer pointed out how much Maher said on his last show was kind of a shame:
Maher was right about one thing: the “disturbing trend going on in America these days of rewriting science to fit ideology or just to fit what you want reality to be.” An example of such a trend would be a talk show where the host talks about a scientific topic but doesn’t actually get verified scientific experts to talk about that topic?