Dr. Richard Carmona
I’ve interviewed Dr. Richard Carmona (the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, and former EMT, nurse, and surgeon) several times on this blog and have been intrigued by his insights and approaches to health. In our most recent interview, he discussed obesity from a provocative new angle: national security.
Dr. Val: What do you mean that obesity is a national security issue?
Dr. Carmona: There are many competing interests on Capitol Hill – the war, the economy, etc. and obesity is something that just doesn’t get enough traction. When I was serving as Surgeon General, I realized that obesity was acting as an accelerator of chronic disease and was the number one health threat to our country. But after several failed attempts to get attention focused on this issue, I realized that I had to present the message in a unique way in order to get it to resonate. It occurred to me that if I used different language to describe the threat, people would allow me to connect the dots and explain the problem fully.
Retaining EMS, police, firemen, soldiers, sailors, and airmen has been challenging because many of them can’t pass their physical fitness tests due to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Health is therefore inextricably tied to national security. Describing the health threat in these terms helped legislators to understand the complex ramifications of the condition.
Dr. Val: How rigorous are these fitness tests? Are we talking about soldiers not being able to run a 5-minute mile, or is it less challenging than that?
Dr. Carmona: The fitness tests are based on research from the Cooper Clinic in Texas and include a measure of aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility. There are standardized minimums based on gender and decade of age, and although I don’t have the exact minimums memorized for each age group, they’re very reasonable. We’re not talking about having to run a 5 minute mile. More like having to run a mile and a half in 15 minutes or having the flexibility to touch your toes in a seated position. As far as push-ups are concerned, the qualifying range is about 20-45.
Dr. Val: One of my blogger friends relayed a story recently about a surgeon who asked his hospital cafeteria to serve healthy options instead of fried food. They responded that no one would buy the healthy food and they’d go out of business – so economic necessity required that they continue to serve unhealthy food. What would you say to that surgeon?
Dr. Carmona: I’d invite that surgeon to come out to Canyon Ranch where we serve healthy gourmet meals every single day. Our chefs are very innovative and entrepreneurial – they make healthy food taste delicious, and at a cost-effective price. Americans need to learn how to make healthy food delicious. My friend Toby Cosgrove is a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, and he was able to spearhead a healthy food initiative there that has been very successful. We strive to find new and creative ways to prepare healthy food at Canyon Ranch – and are always coming out with new recipes and cookbooks to keep people interested in healthy eating.
I caught up with Dr. Carmona at the STOP Obesity Alliance briefing about the new GPS (Guide for Policy and Program Solutions) initiative. Please click here to learn more about the STOP Obesity Alliance.