I was reading the SHRM articles on the home page when I came across Does Weight Impact Performance? This article discusses the weight of Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin. A country that by all accounts has an obesity crisis, one that is affecting our overall health care costs, has nominated a Surgeon General who is fat. WOOPS! Let me be politically correct: a person who appears to be overweight.
My first thought: would this be a question if we were talking about a man? I might be a little oversensitive here, but it just seems to me that men get a pass on things like excessive smoking, eating bad foods, drinking heavily and being overweight. These behaviors don’t seem to draw the same amount of attention in a man as they do a woman. Somehow it just doesn’t seem seemly for us to be seen as having a healthy appetite, enjoying a few shots, puffing a cancer stick, or carrying a little belly fat. Those power suits just aren’t tailored to hide our little sins.
President Obama, for his part, gets away with an admitted smoking addiction and eating cheeseburgers (or as we say in Chicago, “cheeborgor, cheeborgor, cheeborgor”). These behaviors are more distressing considering he is black. WOOPS! Let me be politically correct: He is a member of an ethnic group known to be at statistically higher risk for high blood pressure. But he does look good in a suit.
Gender issues not withstanding, there is a role model issue here. Consider that I am not allowed, per school policies, to send my kid to school with snacks that are not wholesome or whole grain, such as a granola bar or an apple. Sweets are discouraged for celebrating birthdays in school. Either healthy snacks or non-edibles are preferred as treats to pass out for special occasions. This stringency, I am told, is part of a nationwide effort to counteract the trend of obesity in children. We all know, however, that no matter what rules the schools impose, it is what the children see and experience at home that will influence and form their eating habits. Yet, the schools have a responsibility to set the right example and create the right image, or so the theory goes.
So for a nation that would benefit immensely from a concerted effort to make healthy living a priority, do we want our top doc to be an example of the American obesity crisis? Let’s bring this down to another level, closer to home. Many of work for companies that are trying to combat rising health care costs through wellness initiatives and incentives, including incentives for smoking cessation and weight loss, as well as activity, such as walking groups. These initiatives are backed by management and usually spearheaded by Human Resources. I am a living example of such a program. I offered and encouraged a smoking cessation program for my employees, I encourage and provide premium reductions for those willing to take part in annual health risk assessment profiles on site, and I post articles and features on healthy living on the cafeteria bulletin board. I should be setting the best example, right? After all, I am a non-smoking former marathon runner who likes running (still), yoga, walking and swimming and believes in the physical and psychic benefits of such activities and stress management techniques. I should be preaching what I practice, right?
Well, here’s the rub. I’ve gained weight. Not the two to five pounds of water weight that my late sister used to complain about (earning her the title “Skinny Bitch”), but enough to put my BMI (body mass index) over the top of the range. In other words, I got fat. No PC BS here. I’m fat. I’m disgusted with myself. I want to change. I have been very frustrated with my efforts to do so. I admit, I don’t feel like a very good role model, either for my employees or my family.
The aforementioned article indicated that Weight Watchers had a more sympathetic take on this issue (if it really is an issue), citing that the position of Surgeon General may benefit from having a person who truly understands how difficult it really is to lose and maintain weight. Amen to that.
My question now is, do I have a responsibility to not only “make the effort”, but to actually succeed in losing weight in order to restore my credibility as the wellness program representative? Is maintaining that role model status for healthy living an unwritten part of my job description? Overweight people have always been stigmatized to some degree, but have we reached a point where weight management is now a real job criteria, like being properly dressed, using appropriate workplace language, being a good team player, etc.?
I’d love to know your thoughts.