Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama's Surgeon General Pick, Too "Overweight" To Lead

Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, Obama's pick for the next U.S. Surgeon General, is a MacArthur grant recipient who holds advanced degrees in medicine and business administration. She is a family practice doctor who runs her own medical practice, the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic that treats predominately poor patients in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She was the first black woman to be elected to the American Medical Association board of trustees and became president of the Alabama Medical Association, making her the first African American woman to be president of a state medical society in the U.S. But despite the 52-year-old's accolades the nominee is facing harsh criticism for her size. Her round face, plump cheeks, and full-figure, serves as ammunition for her critics. They argue that an overweight surgeon general is sending the wrong message to a country already plagued by obesity. Obama has defined the U.S. Surgeon General's role as "America's leading spokesperson on issues of public health." Not everyone believes she can do the job effectively. "When a teenager listens to this person I want them to listen and respond in a positive way," said Lillie Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. "Not say ho-hum and then drive to a fast food place.""I think it is an issue, but then the president is said to still smoke cigarettes," said Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard University Medical School. Currently there is extensive public concern about the national epidemic of obesity, Angell said. "Having a surgeon general who is noticeably overweight raises questions in people's minds." Despite her critics, Benjamin has supporters. One woman even saw the nominee's weight as a possible change agent. "I thank God that Dr. Regina Benjamin is a fat woman," said Joanne Ikeda, a nutrition specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Maybe now we will stop making the assumption that all fat people are unhealthy particularly in light of new data coming from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey." Some of the U.S. Surgeon General's duties are to "protect and advance the health of the Nation through educating the public, advocating for effective disease prevention and health promotion programs and activities, and, providing a highly recognized symbol of national commitment to protecting and improving the public's health," according to the Office of the Surgeon General. When nominated Benjamin stated, "my hope, if confirmed as surgeon general, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician." The nominee said, "as we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform." Jenny Backus, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement saying, "Dr. Benjamin is a highly qualified physician who has dedicated her life to providing care to her patients. She is a role model for all of us, and will be an outstanding surgeon general."