You may recall a few months ago when President Obama announced the appointment of Regina Benjamin as Surgeon General and her charge of tackling our nation's obesity problem, and the subsequent questioning of her ability to lead an overweight nation into a healthier place when she, herself, was not exactly channeling Denise Austin in her stage presence. Nope, she was a regular old American - overweight, over-scheduled, and just as vulnerable to the siren song of a Grande Java Chip Frappuccino (460 calories and 19 grams of fat, justsoyouknow) as a soccer mom on her last pick-up of the day.
But I guess the nation eventually realized that they didn't really have much room to be judgemental. In a nation where one in three U.S. children and 67 percent of adults are considered overweight or obese, finding someone to tackle the job who didn't have a weight issue would be a challenge. And, her credentials are solid.
But more than that, she's a straight-talker who has a pretty sane perspective on where we've gone wrong and what needs to change in our country to reverse the statistic that estimate that by 2015, nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population will be overweight or obese. In a press conference this week, she described some of her plans for making sure "Wall-E," with its blimp-like mush-people happy to sit in recliners and eat cupcakes in a cup for the rest of their lives, remains a work of fiction.
In this msnbc.com interview, Surgeon General Benjamin focuses on practicality, some tough love, a few reality checks, and her reasonable expectation for Americans to take personal responsibility for their health and realize that when it comes to getting (and staying) fit and functional, there isn't an app for that. You have to do it yourself.
Some highlights that made me a fan:
1. She calls out the food manufacturers on their aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods, and the practice of offering healthier options as an alternative, not a first choice. Educating people about the value of eating healthier food only goes so far; more communities need access to fresh produce at an economical scale that can compete with the dollar menu so people can act on the knowledge they have gained, not just know it.
2. She debunks the role of genetics in our obesity problem. It's true that some people suffer from genetic disorders that make maintaining a healthy weight more difficult than others. But by and large, obesity is more related to lack of activity and chronically poor nutritional choices due to a over-indulged sense of entitlement in our country. We work hard, and we deserve a 650-calorie Blizzard, God-dammit. No. No, we don't.
3. She calls for the reinstatement of recess and physical education in our schools. Not only does research show unquestionable links between regular physical activity and the reduction of stress, take a look around at kids today. Enough said.
4. She talks like a normal person without a personal agenda. I love that she references going dancing and "sweating off her makeup," her personal elliptical workouts, and her admitance that if she didn't pay attention to her nutrition and exercise she would be a "big blimp." To see and hear a national leader be frank about what they are personally doing to be part of the solution, without placing blame or promoting an agenda, is refreshing and inspiring, and I applaud it.
I'm a fan of Regina Benjamin. I'm encouraged by her perspective and am on board to help her achieve her goal of creating a healthier nation. Read her Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation for more information on what you can do to join in and yeah, blah blah blah, make a difference.
And then go sweat off your makeup. :)