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New surgeon general is sworn in, defends her weight

January 11, 2010 | 11:47 am

Dr. Regina Benjamin, the rural family physician that will become the "nation's doctor" after she is sworn in this afternoon, counted herself among the nation's 146 million American adults who are overweight or obese, but said "being healthy and being fit is not about a dress size. It's about how fit you are at that moment in time."

Benjamin, 52, told ABC's Good Morning America that her top priority will be "wellness and prevention."

Dr. Benjamin said it was "very hurtful" that she has come into criticism -- "people calling you names" -- for being overweight. "I'm just like 67% of Americans. I struggle with my weight," Benjamin told Good Morning America. "So I understand. And I want to have them help me, and I'll help them. And we'll work together to try to become a healthier nation."

Dr. Benjamin grew up in a state that has one of the nation's highest rates of excess weight in both adults and children. She founded and ran a medical clinic in rural Bayou La Batre, Ala., until recently. When President Obama nominated Benjamin to the job in July, some commentators suggested her extra poundage could undermine her credibility in leading the federal government's fat-fighting efforts. Among them was former New England Journal of Medicine editor and Harvard University Medical School lecturer Dr. Marcia Angell.

Benjamin shares plenty of other medical history with her new patients as well. Her mother died of lung cancer, her father had diabetes and high blood pressure until his death, and she lost her only brother to HIV/AIDS.

The comments on Dr. Benjamin's weight have been all over the map, and many have been positive. My personal favorite, posted some months back on TheFrisky.com: "the job of the Surgeon General of the United States is to make healthcare and policy decisions for this country -- not to look hot in  a pair of skinny jeans."

What do you think? Can Dr. Benjamin be "the nation's doctor" if she is overweight?

-- Melissa Healy

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