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Reader opinion: Eighty-six the surgeon general?

Surgeon General In Friday's Opinion pages, Henry Miller, a physician and fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, presents an image of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin as ineffective and invisible. She focuses her attention, he wrote, on well-covered issues (obesity, tobacco ...) rather than using her position to educate the public on important health risks we may not know about. Miller's Op-Ed article lists six examples, such as how to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Not that it really matters because Benjamin apparently flies under the radar anyway: "In an informal poll that I conducted recently, only nine of 39 experts in public health could identify the current surgeon general," Miller wrote. "Many thought the post had been abolished or was vacant."

In response to Miller's article, reader "TimBowman" left this comment:

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Anyone who isn't aware of most or all of these issues is living in a cave somewhere. It isn't the job of the government to tell people how to live their lives from a health perspective."

I'd agree; the government shouldn't micromanage our lifestyles. We should be able to smoke, drink and pig-out within legal boundaries. But that doesn't mean we should eighty-six the surgeon general either.

"Local Customer" made a good case:

"Miller's article is right on in identifying how our Surgeon General is in a leadership position but is not leading. And whether or not people listen, someone needs to establish what are healthy practices and what we need to do, health-wise. Sometimes you do need a scold to get things right. The surgeon general's most important place is on a soap box, and she must be there, or give the job to someone who will."

More commenters have weighed in, with the majority of them siding with "TimBowman."


The invisible surgeon general

The "Healthstat" seduction

Healthcare: By 2025, the U.S. may be short 130,600 physicians, half in primary care

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announces her report on tobacco dangers on  Dec. 9, 2010, at the National Press Club in Washington. Credit: Cliff Owen / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (16)

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Big JIm Slade

One of the things the Obama administration continually forgets about is about creating a better future worth living for!

Give us a reason to get old, instead of the continual spending, scolding, and taxing so that we have little desire to be old.

Obama and his minions are about as fun as a dirt clod. Obviously the only pursuit of happiness is for them, and certainly not us. Personally I'm getting tired of having to watch them so carefully to figure out what they're trying to weasel out of the system next.

I had higher hopes for Obama.

A.L. Hern

If Regina Benjamin had a nice, big, bushy Amish farmer's beard like Reagan's Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, people would remember her.

How knows, someone might even be inspired to name a new disease after her.

A.L. Hern

Make that "WHO knows..."

Judy B. Rosener Ph.D.

Dr. Benjamin has an amazing history as a physician. However, she is not a glory seeker, or someone who feels she should preach. I'm sure if Dr. Benjamin's tenure as Surgeon General is examined in the context of what a Surgeon General should do, she would receive an A. Being in the limelight is not one of the requirements, and obesity and tobacco are very important health care issues that lead to large health costs in this country.


Humility can be an admirable quality, but perhaps not for the Surgeon General of the United States. Health care costs are one of the biggest drains on our economy, and many chronic health problems could be prevented or managed through individual action (attention to diet and exercise). While we may not wish the government to TELL us what to do (should it regulate prepared foods, for example, limiting salt content? What about testing dyes and additives? Should welfare recipients be permitted to use food stamps to buy junk food?) is it unreasonable to have a spokesperson who PUBLICLY, LOUDLY (vice softly and humbly) calls our attention to what we can do to improve our health and therefore spend less of our own AND public monies (Medicare and Medicaid, two of the biggest budget busters)? Could we leave such a chore to private industry (a health tip sponsored by McDonalds, for example)? So I support the concept of having a Surgeon General but at this point am unimpressed by the current incumbent's performance. I would rather see her out there, actively promoting that Americans ON THEIR OWN, VOLUNTARILY do what's best for their health and, in the end, for our economy.


I saw her recently on CNN. I couldn't believe how poor her communication skills were. Maybe she's knowledgeable, but shouldn't we have a Surgeon General who's able to speak clearly and intelligently when on television? She sounded like a 15-year-old who had just crammed for her exam.


It's time to start downsizing and this would be a nice first step.

Clark Nova

It's an antiquated, unnecessary position that the taxpayers are not getting their money's worth from. I say abolish the position.

Buck Cameron

Now, quickly, "The surgeon general that she replaced was?" Stumped - thought you'd be. How about naming anyone after Koop. Can't - thought so.

Some surgeons general use the position as a bully pulpit - good for them. Others perform the more routine tasks of head of the Public Health Service - good for them.


I wondered recently: Does sodium nitrate preservatives and curing lead to breast cancer if a person consumes the preservative frequently as an ingredient of cold cut meats, picnic hams and so on.


She could tell the female teens to go to Planned Parenthood. That would be doing us a great favor.

George Bishopric

"Hoover Institute."

Could there be a political aim to this?

Quick: Who was Bush's Surgeon General?


" ... Miller wrote. "Many thought the post had been abolished or was vacant." It should be abolished. Where in the Constitution does it say there should be a government health nanny or scold?

Bowl Weevils

The sturgeon general is one of our most noblest of fishes and a source of excellent caviar. It would be a shame to extinct them.


The Surgeon General said that one puff of a cigarette can kill! My neighbor lit one, took two puffs... and is still alive! I have ben misled. And our health guru SG is a bit chubsky, and a scintilla of obesity can kill! Yet, and fortunately, she still lives! I wonder, can a person of legal age enjoy an alcoholic beverage without fear of dropping dead? Guidance, we need accurate (non-hysterical) guidance from our health leaders. Is it okay to eat bacon? Are cigars tobacco guillotines? Can one eat a piece of candy without getting diabetes? Will French fries really lodge in the heart? By the way, who is this woman and what are her qualifications? I go now to munch a cookie and hope that I will wake up in the morning and not die in the interim from cooky-itis. When will she outlaw ice cream? Should I live in fear and trembling because I eat red meat? AARRGHGH! By the way, the guy next door is 95, has smoked cigarettes all his life and is vigorous and feisty! He jogs past my digs every day, rain or shine. I will not repeat his comments about our SG. But he did blow smoke rings from the depth of his being when I inquired.

Ben S

If my recollection is correct the SG did admirable things to get health care to people that might have been without otherwise. This would indicate a good heart and good intentions. However, she may not have political skills, or badly need someone with skills on her staff to help her.



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