CommonHealth Asks The Surgeon General An Awkward Question About Her Weight

Why even ask about her weight in the first place? Isn't it her own personal business?

Yes, of course, but the personal becomes political when you take high office. Dr. Regina Benjamin is a heroic physician from Alabama who served the poor through hurricanes and high water. When she took office as surgeon general last year, the blogosphere swarmed with negative comments from people who thought that the highest health official in a country mired in an obesity epidemic should not to put it? Should not, as a role model, appear to have a Body Mass Index above the healthiest range? (Salon: "Is Regina Benjamin too fat to be surgeon general?")

Dr. Benjamin walked briskly around the Boston Common today to make a point about the importance of exercise, and it seemed like an irresistible opportunity to ask for her take on the weight thing. What I really wondered was whether she might say anything about how some people just cannot seem to slim down beyond a certain point. Whether obesity is a choice is a subject of continuing debate, including here on CommonHealth.

But she didn't go there. She said that she's always been active, and that she doesn't exercise for "any particular dress size," just because it feels good and it's good for her. You can't help but draw the conclusion — as many did last year — that she's an ideal role model for the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese. She may never model for Vogue, but she's doing the best she can, and she can encourage people to get out and walk by saying, as she did in this video, "If I can do it, anybody can."

But I do have a lingering doubt. When I asked in this video about whether Dr. Benjamin had a personal exercise regimen, she talked about being in airports every day, and trying to walk as many steps as she could between terminals. And when she's home, she works out in the gym or on her porch. I couldn't help but suspect that she's one of those people who are so busy with noble tasks that they do not always prioritize their own health. Even in a brief encounter, she was warm and endearing, and I found myself wanting to inflict a girlfriendy nag on her: "You have to put yourself first more!"

This program aired on November 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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