MEETING THE ACTING SURGEON GENERAL: THE REWARDS OF TEACHING
In 1974 I taught a large course -- Biology 101-102 with about 600 students per semester and a small course, a freshman seminar with 12 students. I held the seminar course in my house on Mud Road in Setauket. We car-pooled to get there. Nedra baked the cookies and cakes and tried not to repeat her offerings and tied them to the books and articles we read. One of the students was Steven Galson. I had long forgotten about Steve’s undergraduate days at Stony Brook until I received an email from President Kenny’s office inviting me to a luncheon with Rear Admiral Galson, the Acting Surgeon General of the United States. I called my daughter Claudia in New York because she was a classmate of Steve’s and she spoke highly of his enthusiasm for whatever he did and his idealism and good humor. She asked me to present Steven with a volume of her poems that were recently published.
I was delighted to recognize Dr. Galson and he was quite delighted to see me. He told me that he didn’t become a premed until his senior year and that he appreciated the mentoring that helped him to finally realize his goal. He went to Mount Sinai Medical School and felt a similar good fortune in being mentored there by faculty in an area of particular interest to him – public health. As an undergraduate at Stony Brook, Dr. Galson brought the NY Public Interest Research Group [NYPIRG] to campus. He went to Harvard after medical school and got a master’s degree in public health. He then worked his way up the federal system of public health, the Center for Disease Control, and the Food and Drug Administration. In October of 2007 he was asked to bring stability to the office of the Surgeon General, which had been buffeted by political controversy. Dr. Galson has done so because he is well known to the staff of these agencies and understands the need for independence of these agencies so they can do the jobs required of them by federal law. He also knows how progress comes incrementally and he chose issues that he felt produced a lot of misery and could be prevented or greatly reduced if the Surgeon General used that office as a “bully pulpit” for change. One of his interests is childhood obesity. Americans spend a lot of their money on food and they overeat. They also have switched from being active in sports to just watching sports or TV or playing video games as children and teenagers in their K-12 experience. We eat too much sugar in our foods and we eat too many calories. Galson’s mission is to change this by education. He pointed out that childhood obesity leads to adult obesity and that leads to an explosion of type 2 Diabetes and to hypertension. Both are major killers and they do so through chronic illness that is costly and involves prolonged pain and disability. Galson would like all our foods labeled with the calories per serving and menus in restaurants having that information on the meals served. People can’t make decisions if they are ignorant of the number of calories in their foods. He also is looking around the country for good models. He suggested a good one for Long Island, a farm to school program that would introduce Long Island vegetables and fruits directly from farmers to the schools, benefiting both in a “win-win” approach. Such a program he first discovered was introduced successfully at the local level in Portland, Oregon. Instead of soft drinks with excessive sugars, students would have fruit juices, fruits, and items like carrots, celery, string beans and other edible fresh vegetables in their cafeterias and snack machines.