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Old 07-21-2009, 10:48 AM   #1
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Too "Fat" To Be Surgeon General?

abcnews.com

Critics Slam Overweight Surgeon General Pick, Regina Benjamin
Leading Experts Say Dr. Benjamin, Though Stellar Nominee, Gives Wrong Message
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES

July 21, 2009—

Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, Obama's pick for the next surgeon general, was hailed as a MacArthur Grant genius who had championed the poor at a medical clinic she set up in Katrina-ravaged Alabama.

But the full-figured African-American nominee is also under fire for being overweight in a nation where 34 percent of all Americans aged 20 and over are obese.

Critics and supporters across the blogsphere have commented on photos of Benjamin's round cheeks, saying she sends the wrong message as the public face of America's health initiatives.

But others support the 52-year-old founder and CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, citing new research that shows you cannot always judge a book by its cover when it comes to obesity.

Even the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance -- whose slogan is "we come in all sizes" -- has jumped to her defense.

"The job of surgeon general is to make health care and policy decisions for the country -- not to look hot in a pair of skinny jeans," said one blogger on Frisky.com. "Perhaps her size could actually be an advantage -- she's in a better position to understand obesity and contemplate out-of-the-box ways to roll back ever-expanding American waistlines."

40 Pounds Over, Size 18, Blogs Speculate

Bloggers on Salon.com speculated that Benjamin is 40 pounds overweight, perhaps a size 18. The nominee didn't return calls from ABCNews.com, so there is no information about how much she weighs or her eating and exercise habits.

Spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services Jenny Backus issued this statement: "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."

Even some of the most reputable names in medicine chimed in.

"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. "It tends to undermine her credibility."

"We don't know how much she weighs and just looking at her I would not say she is grotesquely obese or even overweight enough to affect her health," Angell told ABCNews.com.

"But I do think at a time when a lot of public health concern is about the national epidemic of obesity, having a surgeon general who is noticeably overweight raises questions in people's minds," she added.

Obesity Epidemic Plagues U.S.

The potential for hypocrisy bothered others.

"When a teenager listens to this person I want them to listen and respond in a positive way," said Lillie Shockney, administrative director of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "Not say ho-hum and then drive to a fast food place."

The controversy swirled on the Internet just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans its end-of-month "Weight of the Nation" forum to address strategies to deal with the obesity epidemic.

During the past 20 years obesity has dramatically increased in the United States and is considered a major health risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, costing the nation billions of dollars a year in health care costs.

In 2008, only one state, Colorado, had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. In states like Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, the prevalence is greater than 30 percent.

Dr. Sarah Lester, a pediatrician from Andover, N.H., told ABCNews.com she lost 30 pounds, setting a good example for her patients' families.

"I do think it makes a big difference," said the 38-year-old. "Many ask me how I did it and when I tell them more exercise and eating less many are disappointed. However when they hear even for me there isn't a magic bullet, I think it helps."

Obesity More Prevalent Among Blacks, Latinos

New CDC data show that compared with whites, African Americans have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics have 21 percent higher obesity prevalence.

Some say that as an African American, Benjamin could set a better example.

"It is important to 'walk the walk and not just talk the talk,'" said James Anderson, a professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at University of Kentucky Medical Center. "Oprah struggles as a role model and has given up, as I understand it. Rumor has it that President Obama still smokes. We need role models who are attempting to be leaders for change in health and lifestyle to be role models."

But other top health professionals argue that one can be fit and fat.

"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."

Data from that survey show that more than half of so-called overweight people are metabolically healthy, compared to one-quarter or about 16.3 million adults 20 years or older, who are "metabolically abnormal."

The study emphasizes looking at a person's metabolic health -- blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation and sugar level indicators -- as a better diagnostic tool for future health problems.

"I am appalled that this amount of bias and discrimination exist regarding large people," said Steven Blair, professor of exercise science at Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. "The focus should be on Dr. Benjamin's credentials and accomplishments. What difference does her size make?"

Bias Against Obese People

The former CEO of the Cooper Institute agreed that it is impossible to determine from a photo whether someone is eating a healthy diet or exercising regularly, the cornerstones of physical fitness.

"I cannot resist stating that although too many people assign all sorts of bad traits to overweight/obese people, from being lazy, poor workers, I can think of some pretty bad characters who are thin," he said.

Blair, who told ABCNews.com that he is also overweight, said "even people who are obese are themselves biased."

That negative stereotype even colors national research, which puts an emphasis on caloric intake rather than energy expenditure, according to Blair.

"Should the face of public health practice a healthy lifestyle?" he asked. "Yes, she should not smoke or engage in other unhealthy behaviors and not exercise. I have been harping on this for the last 10 to 15 years. Let's focus on healthful behaviors instead of the way they look."

But Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, and an African American, said there may be "some discrimination people don't realize."

"Obesity has a huge environmental component and is rooted in how one is fed in childhood and what physical activities you partake in the inner city," he told ABCNews.com.

Poverty, Obesity Go Hand in Hand

"Poverty is conducive to obesity," said Brawley. "I think Dr. Benjamin may understand the root causes and effectively address the problems more than skinny people."

Dr. Susan Love, president of the eponymous research foundation, said Benjamin was attacked because she was a woman, reminding that the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop was "no string bean."

"Now I do suspect some of the questioning is a sexist thing in that as a society we still promote the thin, trim female -- a fact that might be a contributor to our problems with eating disorders," said Connie Diekman, a registered nurse and director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

Patients also came to her defense.

"Doctors are human, too," said Chris Hill, a 51-year-old "overweight" pharmacist from El Paso, Texas. "They get sick, smoke, overeat and die like everyone else. Everyone does not have to look like a TV anchor in order to do a good job etc. Being healthy and tiny are not the same things. Are you saying overweight people can't or shouldn't be professionals?"

"My primary care doctor was overweight and was always telling me I needed to lose a few pounds," said Adeeba Deterville, a 47-year-old consultant from Oakland, Calif.

"I did feel it was odd for her to be advising me, when she needed to do it herself. However, I also found some comfort in knowing that she was struggling too and that helped me feel "not preached to. I knew she could relate."

Dr. Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association, said he was "incredulous" at the criticism.

"For the surgeon general to fulfill her responsibility goes beyond anything such as a physical metric," he told ABCNews.com. "What we need are health care leaders who are qualified, passionate, results-oriented and part of a team for the great good. She is all that."
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Old 07-21-2009, 11:04 AM   #2
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This is her, right?



By no means would I call her obese or in an unhealthy category.

I wonder if this was a "full figured" male if it would even be an issue?
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Old 07-21-2009, 11:08 AM   #3
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That's her. Apparently she's considered fat and/or obese. It must be tough to be up for a job like that and to have people on blogs speculating about your size and weight. But from what I know about her so far she's probably survived much worse than that. It still sucks though, for lack of a better expression.
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Old 07-21-2009, 11:50 AM   #4
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She isn't obese, but she is probably overweight.

It doesn't seem like she is that far ahead of the national average (size 14, I believe) for this to really be an issue.
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Old 07-21-2009, 12:08 PM   #5
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What is her BMI?

This country has a serious obesity problem. It is at the root of our Health problems.

Is she obese, there is a definition. Does she meet it? I think she could.

Should she be Surgeon General? Sure, should she lose some weight and encourage the rest of the country to do so? Absolutely.

Should she teach tolerance of large size Americans? No.
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Old 07-21-2009, 12:13 PM   #6
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Maybe they'll ask her what her BMI is during the confirmation hearings. More important than her IQ, perhaps. No one ever asked C Everett Koop, but that was pre-weight obsession in this country. Or Joycelyn Elders, but she just got in trouble for talkin about teachin masturbation. And Bill Clinton was overweight too.

Someone commented on abc.com that she needs to lose 100 pounds. Then again they also commented that she needed to do so before she "leads the country" But if that's a serious comment at all then that is a very warped perception of weight.

And was ABC News actually going to ask her how much she weighs?

2008 MacArthur Fellows
Regina Benjamin

Regina Benjamin is a rural family physician forging an inspiring model of compassionate and effective medical care in one of the most underserved regions of the United States. In 1990, she founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic to serve the Gulf Coast fishing community of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a village of approximately 2,500 residents devastated twice in the past decade by Hurricanes Georges, in 1998, and Katrina, in 2005. Despite scarce resources, Benjamin has painstakingly rebuilt her clinic after each disaster and set up networks to maintain contact with patients scattered across multiple evacuation sites. She has established a family practice that allows her to treat all incoming patients, many of whom are uninsured, and frequently travels by pickup truck to care for the most isolated and immobile in her region. Benjamin is skilled, as well, in translating research on preventive health measures into accessible, community-based interventions to decrease the disease burdens of her diverse patient base, which includes immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, who comprise a third of Bayou La Batre’s population. A committed local physician, she also plays key roles statewide and nationally, helping others establish clinics in remote areas of the country and serving in leadership positions in such health-related organizations as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians. With a deep, firsthand knowledge of the pressing needs and health disparities afflicting rural, high-poverty communities, Benjamin is ensuring that the most vulnerable among us have access to high-quality care.

Regina Benjamin received a B.S. (1979) from Xavier University of Louisiana, attended Morehouse School of Medicine from 1980 to 1982, and received an M.D. (1984) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham; she also holds an M.B.A. (1991) from Tulane University. She completed her residency in family practice at the Medical Center of Central Georgia (1987). The CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic since its founding in 1990, Benjamin has also served as the associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine and as president of the State of Alabama Medical Association (2002-2003).
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Old 07-21-2009, 12:50 PM   #7
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I hope they ask her what she thinks about the obesity crisis in America.

Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, many cancers are just a few of the serious health problems that are significantly reduced by diet and proper weight.

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Old 07-21-2009, 12:59 PM   #8
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Yes we all know that deep Weight issues can be influenced by factors other than diet and exercise-age, heredity/family issues, other medical issues, medications, etc. Also maybe she has done so much for others that she hasn't taken enough time for herself. I don't know, I'm not lucky enough to know her personally.

Maybe we should have weight requirements for all health professionals, otherwise they're not worth listening to.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:07 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrsSpringsteen View Post
Yes we all know that deep Weight issues can be influenced by factors other than diet and exercise-age, heredity/family issues, other medical issues, medications, etc. Also maybe she has done so much for others that she hasn't taken enough time for herself. I don't know, I'm not lucky enough to know her personally.

Maybe we should have weight requirements for all health professionals, otherwise they're not worth listening to.
The body does not care why it is fat.

Heart disease does not take into consideration all those factors when it decides to kill someone.

Obesity is at the top of the list of America's health problems.

Being Surgeon General she will have to speak on it constantly. She can lead by example and provide a visible weight loss.


It is a bit like smoking, we all know it is not healthy. The fact that Obama is a smoker is of little consequence because he acknowledges his behavior is wrong and does not excuse it by saying there are other factors that cause him to smoke.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:07 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrsSpringsteen View Post

Maybe we should have weight requirements for all health professionals, otherwise they're not worth listening to.
I'm assuming this was meant somewhat tongue in cheek, but on some level I don't disagree. I don't need health stats on my doctors but I don't think I could ever see a doctor that was obviously morbidly obese. I expect my dentist to have nice teeth and my eye doctor to not be squiting to read my chart.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:17 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by deep View Post
The body does not care why it is fat.

Heart disease does not take into consideration all those factors when it decides to kill someone.

Obesity is at the top of the list of America's health problems.

Yes I know all of that. But I'm not going to judge her for her weight because of those factors. It's not fair. And weight is a much simpler issue for some people than it is for others, I know that from personal experience.

I think she sounds like a smart and accomplished doctor, and that's the most important thing for me. I'm sure she has her weight in proper perspective.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:24 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Liesje View Post
I'm assuming this was meant somewhat tongue in cheek, but on some level I don't disagree. I don't need health stats on my doctors but I don't think I could ever see a doctor that was obviously morbidly obese. I expect my dentist to have nice teeth and my eye doctor to not be squiting to read my chart.

I've never seen a doctor who was obese in any way, morbidly or not. I don't think Dr., Benjamin looks overweight in any unhealthy way-sure she's not actress thin but who the hell is (especially over age 40). Our perception of what is overweight can be warped. And it is warped to be speculating about her weight or size. As if she's Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson (not right either but it's that celebrity weight obsession that we have in this country which can warp our weight perception too).

I would have much rather had a squinting eye doctor than the one I had who I found out years later via the news was a creepy molesting perv.
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:26 PM   #13
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I have some weight issues too.

It would be easy for me to rationalize with some of the factors you mention.

I don't beat myself up over it. I know I would feel a lot better if I lost 20 pounds. And a lot, lot worse if I gained 20 more.

Obesity, childhood obesity is such a serious problem,
I am starting to think it would be better if Obama had chose someone else.
She was not his first choice. Unless she loses that extra 40 pounds she is carrying around.

If she was a pack a day smoker, would everyone be defending her.

here is an article where some heath professionals do think it is a problem

and there are some just want to overlook it, too.


Is Regina Bejamin, Surgeon General Nominee, Overweight? - ABC News
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:30 PM   #14
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That's the same article I posted, isn't it?

I don't rationalize but I do beat myself up. I've lost and gained. When I was 19 I was so thin I was sickly looking and I was starving myself-but gee, I got compliments. Unfortunately I'm not 19 anymore (so far that it's like trying to see Alaska from my house) and I can't lose weight easily, it's very hard. And I do have other priorities. I don't want to look sickly though, so that's nice. I walk every day, for 40 min to an hour or a bit less if it's very hot.

How does anyone know she's carrying 40 extra pounds? Let's put her on the FYM scale, naked.
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Old 07-21-2009, 02:19 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by deep View Post
Obesity is at the top of the list of America's health problems.
From the WaPo, percentage of healthcare spending by group...

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