Surgeon General designation. When Political Correctness weights more.

by Xavier Tello

Sometimes political choices have to be decided. In most cases, important messages are given when choosing the adequate candidate for a position. The criteria involved in that choice must include credentials, expertise, background, commitment, morality and in some cases, image credibility.

Regina Benjamin, MD

Photo: White House

Dr. Regina Benjamin is a remarkable Physician. Born in Alabama graduated in Louisiana and post-graduated in Georgia; she had devotedly (literally) advocated to help and address the health needs of the poor and minorities.

Dr. Benjamin has all the background, the training and the know-how to make her an ideal candidate for being the next Surgeon General of the USA.

Last July 13th, President Obama announced he had chosen her for the position, at the Rose Garden of the White House.

But there was a problem: Dr. Benjamin is overweight.

As soon as the comment went out in the media, an overwhelming rage of commentaries and opinions (some of them very acid) emerge accusing of discrimination and even bigotry.

More or less, the core of this offended-people commentaries, lands in the political-correctness of “judging someones capabilities” from his or her image. Oh… please!

In her case, overweight doesn’t undermine her capabilities, but it coud really hurt her credibility.


Would it be OK if she were smoker?

I think we’re making (or at least the American society is) the typical double-standard mess here.

Americans love guidelines, methods and manuals for everything. It’s a very effective way to fight eventual chaos. Obesity is a health and epidemiological problem worldwide. Millions of dollars are lost annually due to obesity morbi-mortality and it is the most common cardiovascular risk factor.

But at the quintescential American style, suddenly, a documented health problem falls into the political-correctness arena. “It’s about discrimination” “It’s about Obama’s detractors trying to make him look as a fool”.

No it isn’t.

It’s about the public image of a person that has to be the leader of the health of the United States of America.


Dr. Benjamin could be a fine physician, an excellent one indeed; but being overweight, is she going to lead national anti-obesity policies and health programs?

Those are a priority as shown HERE


When everybody becomes an expert…

One of the problems of the “information era” is that most of the important information could become dis-information when fallen into inexpert hands. Thus, there are thousands of angry readers, opinion bearers, blogers and so-called experts; that are driving this discussion into overweight vs. obese definitions; body mass index (BMI) proper limits or even genetics.

In the summit of “opinionism” there are voices accusing that “fat is the new n-word“; others simply asume that being overwight is just …OK.

Facts are simple and have been meticulously studied and published in Medical Journals.

According to The American Heart Association, obesity is now recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.

Some reasons for this higher risk are known, but others are not. For example:

  • The incidence of heart disease is higher in persons who are overweight or obese (BMI greater than 25).
  • High blood pressure is more common in adults who are obese than in those who are at a healthy weight.
  • Obesity is associated with elevated triglycerides (blood fat) and decreased HDL cholesterol (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Even when there are no adverse effects on the known risk factors, obesity by itself increases the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Benjamin has expressed that her father died of Hypertension and Diabetes; she is black, which statistically predisposes her to a greater and more dangerous level of Hypertension and her waist circumference could easily predispose her to cardiometabolic syndrome. Being a Family Physician, she must have understood that she must not be overweight.

There are even voices that claim that this is about “beauty perception” and discrimination as if politics (American politics) would ever be a top-model (male and female) scenario.


What’s wrong with Dr. Steven K. Galson (current Acting Surgeon General)?

Mistrust could emerge at the Senate confirmation process regarding the fact that Obama would actually was looking after an Afro-American woman (a very capable one, yes) without knowing the important effects of her image at the moment of fighting the number one killer in the world.

A big problem in the USA is that there are always partisans in all subjects, so questioning the “logic” behind picking an overweight person to a top health position… becomes wrong.

If a US Senator dared to directly question Dr. Benjamin how much does she weight, or what’s she going to do with her overweight problem in order to lead the USA into a more fitness-oriented society; it certainly could be the end of his or her political career,

Unfortunately, that’s the American way.

For me (and I think a good number of anti-obesity advocates), this is about credibility.

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