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Why Does the Surgeon General Have to Clean Up Our Mess?

In testimony before the Senate health committee, James Holsinger, President Bush‘s nominee for Surgeon General, listed his three top priorities if approved. According to the New York Times, these priorities would be: “tackling childhood obesity, ‘making America a tobacco-free nation’ and improving the ability of the Public Health Service to respond to emergencies.”

While these priorities are certainly in sync with the current Surgeon General guidelines, it is striking to me that two of Holsinger’s three priorities are essentially self-inflicted conditions. Tobacco use is optional (if addictive); obesity is self-generated (if, for some, unavoidable). What does it say about us, our habits, and our government that the nation’s top doctor must put such energy into these kinds of problems? What would you focus on if you were Surgeon General? (Other than, as former Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified the other day, dodging political demands and singing the praises of President Bush.)