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The New York Times Asked The Surgeon General About Her Weight, Too

Please forgive this self-referential self-indulgence, but when we're cozied up at home watching the snow swirl down, our thoughts tend to turn inward.

I've taken a funny bit of flak lately for asking the surgeon general about her weight when she was visiting Boston in November (See the video below). It goes, in essence: This kind of thing isn't done by serious journalists. Too superficial. No gravitas. Will a distinguished MD-PhD want to speak with a reporter who asks the surgeon general of the United States of America about being fat?

So I just wanted to call attention to this interview with U.S. surgeon general Regina Benjamin in the latest New York TImes magazine — which is not known for any dearth of gravitas. In particular:

When you were nominated for surgeon general, your critics tried to disqualify you on the basis of your weight, saying you were perpetuating obesity rather than battling it.
My thought is that people should be healthy and be fit at whatever size they are.
What sort of exercise do you recommend for people who don’t love it?
I want exercise to be fun; don’t want it to be work. I don’t want it to be so routine that you’re bored with it. We used to jump rope a lot and double Dutch and went to a disco to have fun and enjoy ourselves. We didn’t go to the disco because somebody said, Go dance for 30 minutes.

Looks like Deborah Solomon of the Times magazine had the same feeling I did: When the top health official of a nation fighting an obesity epidemic is herself overweight, you have to ask about it. I have just one regret about that interview. I felt so darned sheepish that I let Dr. Benjamin go without asking her the logical follow-ups: So if you've always been active and yet you're still heavier than the recommended weight, what is your message about that? Do you say: "If you're overweight, never give up, keep trying to lose weight"? Or do you say, "Some bodies just need to be heavier, and we can try to be fit within those constraints"? And what are the policy implications of that message?"

This program aired on January 12, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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