The Surgeon General's Weight
I’ve been following the discussions on the Internet about our new Surgeon General’s weight. Have you seen this photo of Dr. Regina Benjamin from the White House? Okay, she is overweight, but is that such a problem? Frankly, I am appalled.
About the issue
Some people think Dr. Benjamin is too fat to be the surgeon general. This from a US News reader: “How can an obese person educate the country on health?” And a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine says, “It tends to undermine her credibility.”
But is a BMI in the normal range a prerequisite for the job? After all, African Americans have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity than Caucasians. Ethnic minorities were underrepresented in the development and validation of the Body Mass Index (BMI). Even at their lowest weight, some people are simply in the overweight range. Dr. Benjamin comes from one of the four fattest states in the US. Perhaps she is the thin kid on her block.
About Dr. B
Regina Benjamin is a 52 year old black doctor from Alabama who has sacrificed her life to care for the rural poor. Despite her humble beginnings, she has won prestigious awards and is a leader in the medical profession. Her credentials as no less than stellar. The New York Times calls Regina Benjamin “an angel in a white coat.”
I don’t think the naysayers realize that obesity doesn’t always have a lifestyle cause. Physiological mechanisms that are poorly understood may contribute to our weight. For instance, obesity may have a genetic cause. The "thrifty genotype" has allowed entire races to survive on little food while laboring from dawn til dusk. And certain viruses cause obesity in animals. Could that true for humans too? Lack of sleep, a lifestyle choice, is sometimes to blame. Sleep must be an issue for a rural doctor on call 24/7 who builds clinics in her spare time. And don’t forget other reasons like a lack of brown fat. Surprising theories have some merit. (Who knew?)
Does being fat even make a person unhealthy? The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study didn’t find that to be necessarily true. Nearly one third of obese people and half of overweight folks are free of metabolic abnormalities. They have a metabolically benign obesity that is not accompanied by insulin resistance or early heart disease.
Perhaps Dr. Benjamin’s size is an advantage. Who but a champion of the most afflicted and a sufferer herself could better understand a nation struggling with obesity? Doctors struggle with weight issues too. Is this a case fat discrimination or sexism against women?
Is Regina Benjamin’s weight a legitimate concern?
Read more of the brouhaha about the Surgeon General's weight: