HealthLeaders: Have you set other immediate goals for yourself?
Benjamin: Another one of my first priorities will be promoting tobacco-free campuses. … Every day, over 1,200 people die in this country from smoking cigarettes, and each person who dies is replaced by two young smokers. If we could just get our young people not to take that first smoke before the age of 26, our next generation could be smoke-free. Tobacco companies know this so they market to that younger group, spending over $1 million an hour. We want to teach young people not to be lured in by the glamour of it.
HealthLeaders: You are on a mission to promote wellness and prevention. How do you think we can best move from a healthcare industry that is focused on treating illness to one that is dedicated to helping people stay well?
Benjamin: When I had the opportunity to chair the National Prevention Council, we were able to create a National Prevention Strategy to move the nation from being based on treating illness to being based on prevention. I left that position, but I didn't leave the mission. Being at Xavier will allow me to continue that mission. One way to do it is to involve the community, involve everyone.
Healthcare doesn't just occur in our doctors' offices and our hospitals. It occurs in everything we do. It occurs where we live, where we work, where we play, and where we pray. That is where public health comes in. … I don't want to tell people what to do, but I want to encourage them to want to be healthy. If we want people to walk, we need to give them safe places to walk and make their neighborhoods walkable. If we want them to eat well, we have to make sure there are places to purchase healthy foods.