Maher’s obesity solution a big, fat joke

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Late-night talk shows usually give anyone watching an opportunity to laugh. They help us to break away from the real world and the problems that come with it. Now, though, they apparently have the solutions to those problems, as well.

Take the country’s obesity problem. About 40% of Americans are considered obese, a rather alarming number to be sure. However, Bill Maher, HBO’s firebrand, has the solution. He believes fat shaming deserves a reboot.

Yes, Maher wants the snotty spoiled girls with the blond hair in pigtails to jeer at their rotund classmate as she has difficulty running the mile in gym class. He wants the muscular studs of the world to tranquilize the 300-pound guy in the Chick-Fil-A and force him to run on a treadmill until the bathroom scale registers a number below 190. Because that approach has worked so well up to this point.

Maher’s argument is that shaming people has succeeded in getting many of them “out of smoking and into wearing seat belts. We shamed them out of littering and most of them out of racism. Shame is the first step to reform.”

The holes in his argument are more enormous than his outlook on America’s health. While smoking numbers are down, they’ve been replaced by vaping, which is proving to be just as bad a health hazard. The wearing of the seat belts has more to do with it being the law and the threat of nasty fines than it does someone wagging their finger and saying, “Shame on you.”

As for the littering and the racism, Maher must not get out much if he believes our roads and parks are squeaky clean and white supremacists have been wiped off the face of the earth. His argument that “fat shaming doesn’t need to end; it needs to make a comeback” smacks of ignorance and mean-spiritedness. His finger-pointing misses the mark. He aims it at the obese people and claims their willpower is at fault.

To make his point, Maher brought up a vintage image of the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago and was amazed at how “un-fat” everybody looked. He claimed that the Amazon rainforest is being cut down to “make more hamburger.”

What he doesn’t include in his assessment is how the family farms are closing their doors due to stiff competition from mega farms, and that farmland is being sold to build housing developments for the umpteen million people that have been born into this world since Apollo 11 took place in 1969. To accommodate that population growth, you now have fast-food restaurants on every corner in many cities, and they’ve even seeped into the smaller towns.

Grocery stores have whole sections dedicated to frozen foods with preservatives that you can throw in a microwave to nuke. Then, of course, there’s all the studies showing one food is “killing you” one week and then claiming that same food will add years to your life next week. Not to mention all the fad diets out there claiming different results by cutting out different things.

Does he blame those societal shifts? Nope, he’s too busy utilizing a solution implemented decades ago that never really transformed obese people into trim members of the community.

That’s why I was relieved when another late-night host, James Corden, got on his pulpit a few nights later and provided a counterpoint to Bill Maher’s bologna — which, by the way, is not healthy for you — in his argument that fat shaming is not the solution.

“Now there’s a common and insulting misconception that fat people are stupid and lazy, and we’re not. Right? We get it. We know,” Corden said Sept. 13. “We know that being overweight isn’t good for us, and I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight, and I suck at it.”

I haven’t had the best success with weight control, either, but judging from the male bloodline in my family, I’m not doing too bad at 230 pounds. My father had his first heart attack around the age that I am now, and his weight was around 350 pounds. My grandfather, who was also obese, died when I was a boy. Speaking of being a boy, I ate a lot, but I was skinny as a rail until adulthood hit and my metabolism changed.

There are indications that obesity can be caused by genetics, despite Maher’s claim that being fat isn’t a birth defect. Bill Sullivan, a molecular biologist with Indiana University, points out in a story in The Conversation that leptin — a hormone that regulates hunger — could be a factor. According to Sullivan, people with a leptin deficiency could end up looking round, even if they’re always eating healthy food in portion controls.

Sullivan also pointed out growing evidence that prenatal maternal stress could influence childhood obesity. Another cause, he said, could be the bacteria in our gut influencing food cravings and the tendency to overeat.

Besides the physical problems, Sullivan also notes that the act of fat shaming — the weapon of choice for Maher — can cause psychological issues. He cited a 2019 study that showed shaming leads to weight gain, not weight loss, and can lead to depression.

British physician Stephen O’Rahilly summed it up best: “The growing evidence that humans can be genetically hardwired to become severely obese should eventually lead to a more widespread realization that morbid obesity is a disease requiring further scientific research, rather than a failure of willpower requiring sanctimonious moral opprobrium.”

In other words, overweight people don’t need your shame — they need you to mind your own business. Like many societal ills, the cause of obesity has not been determined beyond the shadow of a doubt, Bill Maher should take his fat-shaming words, pour some ranch dressing on them and eat them.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at