June 25, 2018
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Focus on Qualifications, Not Weight


Black Women’s Health Imperative Denounces Criticism of Surgeon General Nominee ReginaBenjamin

What measure qualifies a Black woman to lead? It seems in the case of Regina Benjamin, President Obama’s pick for Surgeon General, it’s not her more than 18 years on the front lines of change, serving an ethnically diverse patient population and leading efforts to improve access and care for underserved communities. 

Instead, the focus is on her weight.

Recently, critics have questioned Dr. Benjamin’s suitability to serve as the nation’s top doctor, calling her overweight, unhealthy, and hence, unfit to lead. 

“The criticism faced by Dr. Benjamin highlights the fact that weight discrimination and sexism trumps an honest evaluation of a woman’s qualifications,” Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative (Imperative), said. “It is appalling that some of her critics are using contrived ideals of what it means to look healthy to assess Dr. Benjamin’s qualifications rather than her leadership abilities, credentials, accomplishments and commitment to improving the nation’s health.”

In a health care system driven all too often by the profit motive, Dr. Benjamin has provided free health care to low-income patients at her Bayou La Batre, Alabama clinic. She rebuilt her rural health clinic twice—first after damage from Hurricane Katrina and again after a fire burned it down only a few days before it was to reopen. 

Dr. Benjamin was the first Black woman and youngest physician to serve on the board of trustees of the American Medical Association. She also served as president of her state medical society and was the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award and Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.

“Dr. Benjamin’s approach to health care is one that is sorely missing in our ailing health care system,” Hinton Hoytt said. “It’s time we focus on the good that Dr. Benjamin has done and the tremendous contribution she will make as surgeon general.” 

Dr. Benjamin has been candid about the health problems that have plagued her family: her mother died of lung cancer, her only brother of HIV and her father after battling diabetes and high blood pressure.

She has already pledged to tackle preventable causes of death. It is safe to assume that obesity—an American problem that crosses race, gender and socioeconomic categories—will be among the list of health conditions she will address in her post. 

Join the Imperative in calling for a surgeon general who can not only talk about the health problems plaguing our country but who could bring a sensitivity and awareness of the complexity of solving these challenges that comes with first-hand experience. 

To learn more about the Black Women's Health Imperative or to become a member, visit BlackWomensHealth.ORG

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