July 30, 2009 :: By Morgan Downey
The debate over President Obama’s selection of Dr. Regina Benjamin as the next Surgeon General has focused on whether someone who appears to be somewhat overweight can carry the messages of the public health community to eat better food and less of it and exercise more to achieve a healthy weight.
While the debate ranges over the BMI range of the top government spokesperson, no one, it seems, is looking at the message itself.
One can well question whether the educational messages are working. One recent study showed that adherence to the federal government’s five recommendations for healthy living has decreased from 15% to 8%. Adherence to healthy lifestyle habits in US adults…[Am J Med. 2009] – PubMed Result This has occurred during an extensive educational campaigns about obesity during this period.
Given the investment in getting out the message of the values of living a healthy lifestyle, there are some disconcerting findings. For example, a new, small study indicated that messages to exercise may lead to greater food intake. Immediate increase in food intake following exerci…[Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009] – PubMed Result This experiment showed that when subjects were receiving information on exercise from actual campaigns, their consumption of available foods increased over the control group which did not get the messages.
As much as I am wary of anecdotal messages, I am reminded of a recent meeting of persons wanting to lose weight. One woman said she was the mother of five children and they had a family gathering (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Passover, weddings, graduation, christenings, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, etc. ..fill in the blanks.) One daughter told the mother she needed to eat better. The mother was resentful. But when another daughter talked to her about changing her food choices, she was receptive. The second daughter was overweight and struggling with it; the first daughter was always lean.
We have assumed that the best messenger was one who walked the walk. But does that mean only a lean person can be the messenger? OR would we rather have a leader who is like us…struggling…sometimes failing and trying to get back into the saddle?