It's a shame what Bill Maher has been saying about the obesity epidemic. Back in 2019, Maher literally asked people to "fat shame" others more on his HBO show "Real Time with Bill Maher," 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 the following tweet from Maher and the accompanying video:
Just to be clear, Maher is not a scientist. During this segment, he also didn't present any real scientific studies or have any, you know, real live scientists present. So, hmmm, was he in fact presenting actual science or was he rather rewriting science to fit his ideology or just to fit what he wants reality to be? Well, let's take a look at what else Maher had to say.
Maher next lines were, "that is new, to view 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 that body positivity is about saying, "I'm perfect the way I am because I'm me?" When have real health professionals said that anyone should believe that he or she is perfect? It's not as if doctors have been telling patients, "You are perfect, don't do anything," or scientific journal articles have been 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 on himself. Instead, body positivity is about understanding that even when a given person works very hard and does all the "right things," such as eat healthily and exercise a lot, he or she may still never achieve the same body size as someone who can eat an all-hot dog and pizza diet while retaining the body shape of Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy .
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), as described by a publication in the American Journal of Public Health . And HAES doesn't mean that you can just eat anything that you want, not exercise, and add extra body 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 actual 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," full stop? Have any real obesity experts actually said, "Yay, gluttony?"
Also, during his rant, Maher labelled Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, founder of Conscience Health , as a "Fat activist." Yeah, labelling may be a fun thing to do in high school, but advocating against weight-based and body size-based bias and discrimination is not being a "fat activist." The words "fat activist" makes it sounds like someone is actually pushing for the interests of adipose tissue, which doesn't seem to be the case with Kyle. As you can see in the following American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) video, Kyle has emphasized how public stigma can actually hinder the proper treatment of obesity:
Maybe next time Maher can bring Kyle on his HBO show so that everyone can hear directly from the source what Kyle has been saying? It would be interesting to see what Maher would say when in the company of real experts in the field.
Speaking of company, 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, "specifically about fitness" may not be the first thing that you think of when one mentions Victoria's Secret. A lot of their lingerie is probably not designed specifically for spinning class, the 100 meter hurdles, or other fitness purposes. Moreover, in that statement, Maher was doing exactly what anti-bias advocates have warned against doing: assuming that someone of a certain body size or type 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 BMIs, which caught the ire of those on social media such as @SER1897:
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 that many other factors 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 simply by telling everyone to eat less and exercise more. That tact was attempted in the 1990's and the 200o's, and again the 2010's with all those fad diets and fitness programs. And where has it gotten our society? Obesity rates have continued to go up and up.
Simply blaming individuals for the obesity epidemic neglects the fact that a lot in our society has changed since the late 1970's when obesity rates began rising. For example, some on Twitter wondered aloud (because you can't really wonder silently on Twitter) why Maher didn't say more about the food industry, which has added more and more additives and processing to food and beverage items over the years:
While the composition of food may be playing a major role in the obesity epidemic, it's certainly not the only culprit. Anytime a major public health problem persists, the cause is a system of different factors. In the past several decades that have had corresponding rises in obesity rates, other changes have occurred such as more and more chemicals in the environment, neighborhoods becoming less walkable, sleep problems increasing, and work becoming increasingly sedentary. Furthermore, the obesity epidemic has paralleled the rise of other health problems such as other chronic medical conditions, loneliness, and mental health issues that started in the 1980's and have continued their 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 his 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 were 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? It would be shame if this happened.
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