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The Surgeon General gets it right

Did you read about the Surgeon General's plan to combat obesity in America?

I didn't think so.

For a major document about a major issue coming from a major figure in the Obama administration, the Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010, released last Thursday, got surprisingly little press coverage. The Washington Post, as of Friday at 2, hadn't written about it. Nor had The New York Times. A Google search yielded some articles -- but nearly all of them were about First Lady Michelle Obama's participation in the announcement and her concerns about her daughters' BMIs.

I have a hunch that if Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's plan had called for a soda tax or legislation requiring restaurants to post calorie counts or big expensive government programs to cure obesity, plenty of ink would have been devoted to her report.

But Benjamin's sensible, seemingly heart-felt document doesn't mention such things. Instead, it talks about personal responsibility, about communities working together, about grassroots efforts. It places the onus for weight loss squarely on the shoulders of individuals. Here's an excerpt:

As a society, we have to begin to change our habits one healthy choice at a time. Change starts with the individual choices we as Americans make each day for ourselves and those around us. Balancing good nutrition and physical activity while managing daily stressors is always a challenge, but one that can be achieved. Finding time to shop for and prepare healthy meals after work and between family activities requires planning. Stress and a lack of available healthy and affordable foods are some of the reasons why many people turn to fast food as a regular source for meals. Eating excess calories contributes to obesity, but so does watching too much television and sitting for hours in front of a computer.

These is not what many people want to hear -- or expect to hear in these paternalistic days.

But to Benjamin, whose suitability for the job I joined many others in questioning when she was nominated, I say hear! hear! and Attagirl! and all kinds of other supportive stuff. For too many years, people have been encouraged to believe that their weight and that of their children was out of their control, subject to all kinds of insidious forces. Benjamin acknowledges that much of the world's deck is stacked against those who would maintain a healthy weight -- but she doesn't allow that to stand as an excuse. Step up and join the fight, she urges.

Benjamin, who admits she's struggled with her weight, reminds us that our goal shouldn't be to fit in smaller clothes but to achieve a weight that allows us to live healthy, active and happy lives.

She'll have to shout louder, though. Because she's got to get her message past a sea of deaf ears.

For more health news, follow Jennifer on Twitter:

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Health Policy , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Is that Right? Loud music ruined baby boomers' hearing?
Next: The "diet" dilemma


Yes, personal responsibility is essential, but there is still a necessary role for government, especially in requiring more and better Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food and on restaurant menus.

It's impossible to make informed choices if you can't get the information.

I don't want the government deciding what kinds of food I should eat (low-carb, low-fat, low sodium, whatever) but I want the information that empowers me to decide.

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Posted by: jimpurdy | February 1, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Obesity is a chronic progressive condition. It takes team effort to leash this giant under control. As a physician treating Obesity patients everyday,I know first hand that controlling it is an absolute team effort. The individual, his/her family, Companies for their part with food labelling, govt policies starting from school inculcating healthy eating habits along with sports activities in the curriculum can all compliment the individual's effort.

Dr. Sharma's Obesity Notes

You can read more about other related topics on my blog at

Posted by: DrAryaSharma | February 2, 2010 6:17 AM | Report abuse

Dr Benjamin mentioned that doing something positive instead of warning (kids or adults) not to eat X or drink Y was a much more successful strategy. And it my practice and with my patients, both kids and adults.
John La Puma MD
ChefMD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine

Posted by: drjohnlapuma | February 2, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

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