MSNBC interviewed U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin about weight and fitness and her “vision for a health and fit nation.” Benjamin, you may recall, was attacked and criticized for her weight after her nomination (she appears to be about a size 18). But while Benjamin is enthusiastically joining the “nation’s war on fat,” I’m glad to see that she’s more even-keeled and sensitive about it than, ehem, others.
So how do you reach more people?
If you talk to the average person, what’s clear is we need to give them tools to make it easier. We need to get people to make good health part of their lives. I’m showing my age, but I remember going out dancing, doing the hustle and sweating off my makeup. That was fun. People need to exercise and eat well because they enjoy it and they want to be fit. It could be taking a walk in a park. But we need nice parks. We need people to buy better foods. But a lot of communities don’t have access to fresh produce. Right now, it’s very difficult to find a meal that’s healthy and competes with a “dollar meal” like a burger and fries. We need to ask the communities and food manufacturers to offer more healthy choices not as alternatives, but as first choices.
Your weight was made an issue when the President picked you for the post, and you said it was hurtful. So how do we talk to our kids about a sensitive topic like weight?
I’m very secure in my own self esteem, but yes, it was hurtful. There were some mean comments. But what about those kids who will be looking at me as a role model? They may be very discouraged by some of those comments. I exercise regularly, at least four days a week. If I didn’t I probably would be a big blimp. And I try to eat pretty healthy, as much as I can. I know the things that I’m doing. I tend to stay on the elliptical as long as other people. I’m not out of breath. You can be healthy and fit at different sizes. The real message is that you don’t want to limit yourself by your dress size. You need to be comfortable with yourself and have a good body image. Don’t have some dress manufacturer tell you what size to be. Be a size that makes you fit.
I dislike Benjamin’s near exclusive focus on obesity — as if Not Getting Fat is the only worthwhile reason to encourage people to make healthier choices — and I am vehemently against workplace wellness programs and challenges, which she also promotes, but I’m glad to see that not only does Benjamin appear to support HAES, she also seems to recognize the racial, environmental and socio-economic forces at play that contribute to body weight. Now if we could only get her to heed her own words and redirect her health and fitness outreach efforts from just fat people to all people.