Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obama Surgeon General Nominee an Adviser to Burger King

Judging by the size of this woman, I'd venture to say she's doing a lot more than just advising at Burger King.
President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, whose job it is to help encourage Americans to get thinner and healthier, has been working part time as a scientific adviser to the fast-food giant that sells sandwiches like the Whopper and BK Triple Stacker.

Dr. Regina Benjamin, hailed by Mr. Obama for her efforts in running a health clinic in hurricane-ravaged rural Alabama, has been paid $10,000 since last year for serving on a scientific advisory board for Burger King, according to newly filed public financial disclosures.

The documents do not specify the scientific issues on which Dr. Benjamin advised the fast-food company, and her medical office in Bayou La Batre, Ala., declined a request for an interview. Burger King officials said Dr. Benjamin served on the company's nutritional advisory panel, formed last summer as part of "ongoing efforts to promote balanced diets and active lifestyle choices."

The Edelman public relations firm, hired by Burger King, recommended Dr. Benjamin and other specialists to serve on the panel, an Edelman spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Vicki Rivas-Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Dr. Benjamin would resign her position from Burger King upon confirmation by the Senate. She also said Dr. Benjamin would recuse herself from any specific party matters involving Burger King for the next two years as part of the Obama administration's ethics pledge.

"As the nation's leading spokesperson on public health, she will continue to promote healthy eating and exercise," she said.

"As third-party counselor bringing her expertise on public health on an advisory panel, she was advocating for food options that were lower in sodium and recommending that nutritional information appear on food packaging," Ms. Rivas-Vazquez said of the nominee's work on the Burger King panel.

Still, the existence of a financial relationship between a big fast-food company and a surgeon general nominee troubles Dr. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of "What to Eat."

"Fast-food companies are not public health agencies; their job is to sell fast food - and the more, the better," Dr. Nestle said. "For me, this would represent an impossible conflict of interest.

"I can't speak for anyone else and I am aware of the counterargument that if you want companies to become more health conscious, you need to work from the inside. But in my experience, that argument does not hold."
Just imagine if a Republican appointed someone who was an adviser for Big Burger. They'd be laughed out of town.

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