By Raina Bedford
A diverse group of Stony Brook students and faculty came out to see the current US Surgeon General and Stony Brook alumnus, Steven K. Galson, speak at the lecture hall in the Health Sciences Center on Thursday, May 1.
The Surgeon General came mainly to speak about childhood obesity and how the health community should approach reducing it.He spoke mostly about prevention through education and highlighted several programs such as “Be Active Hops,” which aims to promote exercise and healthy diet choices for children.
Galson came out strong against beverage companies like Coca-Cola, who maintain contracts with public schools and provide children with their products.He said that often the problem is that the schools lack the money necessary to provide healthy choices to children.He commended the major beverage companies for voluntarily reducing the amount of calories in their drinks, but said that even if they reduce the calories in soda, “diet soda is not a healthy choice.”
Currently, the United States 2007 Farm Bill, passed by Congress, subsidizes the production of High Fructose Corn Syrup, a liquid sweetener found in many sodas and snacks that contributes to the high rate of childhood obesity. Galson would not condemn this practice, saying that “there is not one demon ingredient” in our food, and that he would place the emphasis on the amount of calories in the food rather than the specific ingredients.
Varun Kumar, a second year medical student and Chapter President of the American Medical Association at Stony Brook, said he “would’ve liked to see more clear cut answers about high fructose corn syrup.I felt many of his answers were too politically neutral.”
Coca-Cola currently provides Stony Brook with virtually all of the beverages sold on campus.These drinks contain extremely caloric ingredients and there is sufficient medical evidence suggesting that regular consumption of soda significantly increases the risk of obesity.
Shirley Strum Kenny, current President of Stony Brook University, said that the current beverage contract with Coca-Cola remains in effect for one more year, but wouldn’t say whether or not she’s planning on renewing the contract, despite health concerns.Dr. Richard Fine, Dean of the Stony Brook Medical School, said that the contract with Coca-Cola wasn’t a major health concern because students should have the willpower to choose the healthier food choices on campus.The Surgeon General himself echoed this same response saying, “Coca-Cola provides healthy choices like flavored water.”
Dr. Fine said, “I want it to be noted that there were healthy food choices at this event” to which Kenny responded, “Yes, but that’s not what they’re getting down in the residence halls.”
Kenny went on to say that the current food contract with Chartwells has been extended for a year.So while not much is expected to change over the summer in regards to the food in the resident halls at Stony Brook, the time to consider potential changes is imminent.
Following his lecture, there was a meet-and-greet in a lobby upstairs in the hospital.Students were allowed to ask the Surgeon General questions and talk to him one-on-one.In attendance were mostly medical grad students and faculty at the hospital, who were for the most part excited to meet a prominent figure in the health community.
“I personally have an interest in public health and I think it’s a good opportunity to meet a prominent political figure.It’s good that Stony Brook is able to do this kind of stuff,” said Lena Dondik, a first year med student from Queens, NY.