Featured Photo: Regina Benjamin

Oliver Bok, Editor in Chief

Regina Benjamin, former Surgeon General and current professor of Public Health Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana, speaks to an audience in Finney Chapel on Wednesday night as part of the Convocation Series. Benjamin talked about her experiences working as a doctor in rural Alabama and how her interactions with patients informed her work in public health. She discussed at length the impact that seemingly unrelated factors can have on health: illiteracy can make taking the correct medication impossible, some hairstyles can lead people to choose not to exercise, and the BP oil spill caused a sharp uptick of mental health problems in Louisiana. More than anything, Benjamin emphasized the deeply negative impact poverty can have on one’s health. “We want to change the way we think about health in this country. We want to take a more holistic and integrated approach to community health,” Benjamin said.

In addition, the former Surgeon General spoke about two of the country’s most pressing public health problems: smoking and obesity. For Benjamin, tobacco use is a deeply personal issue, as both her mother and uncle died of smoking-related diseases. She also congratulated Oberlin College for recently approving the tobacco ban and underscored the point by saying: “Every single day, in this country, 12,000 Americans die from cigarette smoke. Each of those deaths is being replaced by two new smokers. We call them replacement smokers. 90 percent of all smokers start before the age of 18, and 99 percent before the age of 26.”

However, Benjamin also emphasized the importance of being positive and accepting when relating public health care messages. “We have to stop telling people what they can’t do, and what they can’t have, and what they can’t eat, and we have to start telling them what they can do, what they can eat,” she said.