When President Obama first nominated Alabama doctor Regina Benjamin as surgeon general, critics charged that the nominee was too fat to serve as the nation’s leading public health advocate. Those same critics will no doubt find more ammunition in today’s Washington Times, which reports that Benjamin has financial ties to big-time fast-food corporations—the scourge of public health advocates everywhere. According to the Times, Burger King paid Benjamin about $10,000 to serve on an advisory board, where she supposedly advocated for healthy improvements in the company’s food offerings. Given that the company’s new “Angry Triple Whopper” contains nearly 2,000 milligrams of sodium, 91 grams of fat and 1360 calories, it’s hard to see how much influence Benjamin had.
The Times homes in on Benjamin’s ties to the fast-food giant, but buried in the story as well is the news that Benjamin received $20,000 for sitting on an advisory board at ConAgra, one of the nation’s biggest processed food companies, maker of Slim Jims, Fiddle Faddle, the ever-popular Manwich sloppy Joe sauce. NYU prof and nutrition guru Marion Nestle told the Times that the corporate food payments were hugely problematic for someone whose job it should be to encourage the public to shun those companies’ products. “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.”