October 2, 2022

It’s a shame what Bill Maher says about the obesity epidemic. Back in 2019, Maher literally asked people to “play shame” more on his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher”. This was like telling people to bully others more, as I covered it Forbes. Now, on the latest episode of his show, Maher complained that America “has gone from fat acceptance to fat celebration.” Maher also claimed that “There’s 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 tweet below by Maher and accompanying video:

To be clear, Maher is not a scientist. He also did not present actual scientific studies during his segment or bring actual scientists and subject matter experts on this show. So, ummm, was he presenting the real science or rather his ideology or what he wants reality to be?

Maher went on to say, “to consider yourself letting yourself go as a point of pride? We tried to be fit and healthy, and society praised those who succeeded. Now the term “body positivity” is used to mean, “I am perfect the way I am because I am me.” why is it me?’ While some people may have twisted this message, real health professionals who are experts in the field are not saying that anyone should think they are perfect. Life is about constantly trying to improve. It’s not like doctors are telling patients, “You’re perfect, don’t do anything,” or journal articles are saying, “Everyone’s perfect. The end.” No matter what your body mass index (BMI) may be, your current lifestyle, or your overall health, you always have room for improvement.

Instead, body positivity is about understanding that one size or shape does not fit all. If, for example, everyone was supposed to look like Lebron James, then Maher would have a lot of work to do. In contrast, body positivity is about understanding that a given person can do everything right, like eat healthy and exercise a lot, but never have the same body size as someone who can only diet hot- dogs and pizza, but look like Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy.

So when Maher went on to say, “‘Healthy at any weight’ is an unquestionable lie people tell themselves so they can go ahead and eat whatever they want,” he wasn’t accurately portraying what it is and what it really means the phrase. First of all, the most established term is Health at Every Size (HAES). And that doesn’t mean you can just eat whatever you want and not exercise and put on extra weight without any consequences. Rather, it means that body size (or weight) is only one measure that alone may not necessarily reflect a person’s health. Otherwise, someone who is just skin and bones and eats nothing but chips all day would be considered the healthiest of the healthy.

Later, during his rant, Maher asserted, “At some point, acceptance becomes favorable. And if you are in any way participating in this merry feast of gluttony going on now, you have blood on your hands. Perfect.” Then again, who exactly makes a “happy feast of gluttony?” Have any real obesity experts said, “Yup, gluttony?” Maher invited Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of Conscience Health, a “fat activist”. But standing up for prejudice and discrimination based on weight and body size doesn’t mean you’re a “fat activist,” which sounds like someone who’s really pushing for the interests of adipose tissue. Here Kyle explains about it American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) how stigma hinders proper treatment of obesity:

Maybe next time Maher will bring Kyle on his show so everyone can hear directly from Kyle what he has to say?

Maher’s rant also included the following statement: “Nike, Sports Illustrated, Victoria’s Secret, companies that are specifically into fitness, yet they promote people who are obviously not into fitness.” OK, the fitness company might not be the first thing you think of when you mention Victoria’s Secret. Many of their underwear are probably not designed specifically for the spinning class or the 100m hurdles. What’s more, in that statement, Maher did exactly what anti-bias advocates have warned against doing: assuming that someone with a certain body size is “obviously out of shape.” Maybe Maher should go visit some NFL players and tell them to their faces that they clearly aren’t into fitness because they’re over a certain body weight.

Throughout his rant, Maher continued to promote stereotypes of those who may have larger body sizes or higher body mass indexes (BMIs), which drew the ire of those on social media, including:

Near the end of Maher’s rant, Maher acted like he already knew how to solve the obesity epidemic and that it’s just a matter of telling people to be less gluttonous. This way oversimplifies the obesity epidemic and overlooks many of the scientific studies that have shown many other factors that may contribute to the obesity epidemic. As I have written many times before about Forbes, The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) Internationaland Nutrition Reviews, the obesity epidemic is a systemic problem, not one that can be solved by simply telling everyone to eat less and exercise more. This was attempted in the 1990s and 200s, and again in the 2010s. To simply blame individuals ignores the fact that much in our society has changed since the 1980s, when obesity rates began to rise, such as the supply our food with more and more processed food 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 the food can play an important role. But he’s probably not the only culprit. Whenever a major public health problem persists, a system of different factors is involved. In recent decades that correspond to the continued rise in obesity rates, there have been other changes, such as people being exposed to all kinds of new chemicals in the environment, cities becoming less walkable, and work becoming even more sedentary. In addition, the obesity epidemic has paralleled the rise of other health problems, such as other chronic medical conditions and loneliness and mental health issues that began in the 1980s and have continued upward trends in the decades since. So the chances are that some of the same factors contribute to each of these different trends.

This certainly isn’t the first time Maher has railed about a scientific topic, but he didn’t include actual scientists on the show. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he criticized vaccines and the use of face masks while talking about the use of ivermectin for Covid-19. One Twitter user pointed out how much of a shame Maher said on his most recent show:

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 invite verified scientists to talk about that topic?

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