Evaluating health risk factors for presidential candidates

I have a piece here on this week’s kerfuffle over the relationship between Chris Christie’s weight and his presidential ambitions.

79 comments on this post.
  1. catclub:

    I noticed Christie saying his son asked if he was going to die.
    (I think the problem for the kid might be that the Doctor said ‘die in office’
    and the kid knows Christie is already in office.)

    I have no idea how much or little I really realized my parents are mortal when I was 10. Heck, I have no idea how much I realized it when I was 35.

  2. BlueLoom:

    In your Time piece, you said “All other things being equal. . .” But all other things are not equal. The mortality statistics that you need to compare are those of a healthy 69-year-old woman vs. those of a seriously overweight 54-year-old man.

    That said, I quite agree that that the doc in Arizona overstepped when she commented on the health risks of Gov. Christie’s weight. It’s none of her business. Let the voters decide (and choose a good VP candidate).

  3. Cody:

    Honestly, I think the weight issue is just being used as cover for something else: He isn’t good looking.

    People talk about “looking presidential” all the time, but there is no denying that being nice to look at helps your presidency. People don’t want to turn on the TV to see someone who, in their opinion, reflects poorly on the United States. Obviously what “looks good” is extremely subjective, but currently thin is in.

  4. Steve LaBonne:

    I wish Christie wasn’t a devoted servant of the plutocracy, because he does have his moments. I can only applaud the way he told off that idiot doctor.

  5. Richard:

    I’ve disagreed with many of your posts about weight (for one,I think there is a more serious scientific debate on such matters as the value of the recent AMA study than you do and I certainly don’t think that the First Lady’s Let’s Move program is pernicious bullying) but I think you’re absolutely right here. This doctor had no business opining on Christie’s weight and risk of mortality and, very obviously, age is the biggest factor in determining the likelihood of death

  6. DocAmazing:

    Just out of curiosity, how many US presidents were of below-average height?

  7. catclub:

    “This doctor had no business opining on Christie’s weight and risk of mortality and”

    Well, the doctor may have done a hamhanded job of it, but I think a doctor could be quite well qualified to do that.

    “Many people as obese as Christie develop serious health problems related to their excess weight. I do not know the specific details of his health, but his weight is clearly a concern that many doctors would have.”

    I am a doctor of Philosophy. I have no masters degree, not even in science.

  8. Cody:

    Wikipedia has an opinion on the matter.

    It would appear in general they were average or above average height. The average height now is 5′ 10″ of white males (also according to wikipedia).

    I would say the effect now is certainly amplified over earlier years – TV has changed the way it works to some extent. But no doubt the view of what a good-looking person is has also changed.

  9. catclub:

    There was James K Polk, the Napoleon of the stump.

    Does Jeff Davis count?

  10. njorl:

    I agree. And pulling out that donut on Letterman was nice.

  11. DocAmazing:

    Well, the doctor may have done a hamhanded job of it, but I think a doctor could be quite well qualified to do that.

    Governor Christie’s doctor is qualified to comment on Governor Christie’s health. A doctor who has not examined Mr. Christie nor seen any of Mr. Christie’s medical records and comments anyway is busy doing the Bill Frist-Terri Schiavo dance.

  12. DocAmazing:

    Only if his dress size was also proportionally small…

  13. daveNYC:

    It’s unfortunate that, despite his pugnacious reply to Mariano, Christie seems to have partially internalized the dual message of our fat-hating culture: that his weight puts him at grave risk of early death, and that in order to enjoy good health he must become thin.

    Your own article says that being that obese increases his mortality risk by 29%. I’m not sure if that qualifies as ‘grave’, but it is something that is backed up by some statistics and isn’t just a product of haters.

  14. The Dark Avenger:

    Christie is morbidly obese. You don’t need a doctor to tell you what you can see with your eyes. I doubt he could walk a half-mile without getting extremely out of breath.

  15. El Tiburon:

    I don’t think his health has anything to do with it. Fact is too many Americans are repulsed by obese people. Plain and simple. Factor in that this obese person wants to be the Leader of the Free World and it just doesn’t add up.

    And it’s not just obesity, sadly. If Obama looked more like Ray Lewis than Tiger Woods, well, we know Obama would never have been a Senator much less President.

    We want our President to LOOK like a President. That’s why the world, including many of us on the left, were shocked when Obama won. We may be ready for a Hillary, but probably not a Barbara Jordan.

    So, while his weight should NOT be an issue, it will be THE issue. It will be the underlying current to everything he says and does.

  16. El Tiburon:

    I should add that I am not saying I am not ready for a Barbara Jordan or an Obese democrat – just stating the truth of the matter when it comes to race or obesity and so on.

  17. sparks:

    I’ve noticed a trending up of people (both lay and medical) who seem to find it necessary to give medical opinions and advice on people and situations they’re not familiar enough with to render such advice.

  18. JoyfulA:

    Mariano must be related to Dr. Frist, at least by GOP ideology and presumptuousness. I’m glad neither is my MD.

  19. JoyfulA:

    If only Barbara Jordan were with us today!

  20. catclub:

    It Was! I saw it at the Beauvoir House in Biloxi Mississippi.

  21. Ed:

    The issue is probably moot since the likelihood of his getting the nomination is small, but I’m sure Christie could get through the eight years just fine. This is more about presidentiality in the television era than health. As noted above, it isn’t so much that Christie is fat but that he doesn’t carry it well. Certainly he could stand to lose a few pounds and it would statistically be better for him in the long run if he did, but I understand he’s already tried dieting. Maybe he’ll come across the right diet someday, or maybe not, but this “debate” has little to do with health.

  22. catclub:

    I think El Tib was saying that we are not ready for a Zombie Barbara Jordan President.


  23. DocAmazing:

    By the way, nice Duck’s Breath shout-out there.

  24. njorl:

    You’d have to know average height for each year.

    From what I’ve pieced together:

    Now 5’10″
    1945 5’8″
    1865 5’7″
    1830 5’8″
    <1830 ?

    Madison was shorter than average by more than 3".
    van Buren was 2" below average.

    About 4 presidents were around an inch or so below average.

    At the other end, you've got Lincoln towering over his average contemporary by 9", and at least 5 others 6" taller than average.

    Height might be a campaigning advantage, but height might also be an indicator of privileged upbringing, which could be the real advantage.

  25. The Dark Avenger:

    I’ve known several people who are as obese as Christie is, and none of them could walk a half-mile(or in one case, even walk more than 100 yards) without getting out of breath.

  26. Leeds man:

    Is Christie’s health more of a concern than JFK’s was?

  27. DocAmazing:

    Ah, but the public didn’t know about JFK’s health problems. Christie wears his, er, under his sleeve.

  28. drkrick:

    You might want to review the second half of the sixth paragraph we’re it’s reported that Christie’s weight would increase his chances of mortality by about 29%.

  29. drkrick:

    Which tells you very little about his specific health status without some familiarity with his specific situation. We both know what the odds are, but as any 80-year-old smoker can demonstrate unlikely outcomes happen all the time.

  30. Cody:

    Always shocked me how we managed to treat dead people. I mean, there are more dead people than living people. Yet Living-ists always seem to win out in the end.

  31. njorl:

    A typical woman of Hillary’s age would have a 7.1% chance of dying while she’s in office
    A typical man of Christie’s age and obesity would have a 4.2% chance of dying in office.

    Presidents have been shot to death in 7.5% of 4 year terms in office.

  32. NonyNony:

    We want our President to LOOK like a President. That’s why the world, including many of us on the left, were shocked when Obama won.

    You have absorbed far too much “conventional wisdom”. The second sentence you have here refutes the first.

    People on the teevee tell us that the American People want a President who “looks presidential”. Because they think the American People are superficial morons.

    Then look what happens – we elect a President who didn’t “look Presidential”. Because the voting mass of Americans are not, in fact, superficial morons who vote against someone because they don’t “look presidential”. They have reasons for voting for or against someone that have far more to do with the party that person belongs to and their personal agendas than they do with what that person looks like.

  33. The Dark Avenger:

    The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.

    Damon Runyon

  34. BigHank53:

    The dead always let people walk all over them.

  35. Jameson Quinn:

    His risk of dying or having a serious health problem in office would still be lower than most presidents in history, either prospectively or retrospectively. So yeah, 29% is a non- issue.

  36. Jameson Quinn:

    That is, 1% diference in absolute risk.

  37. ploeg:

    The relationship between Christie’s weight and his presidential ambitions is that his weight adds to his resemblance to Fred Flintstone.

    Though I will applaud the time that Christie used a state trooper helicopter to go see his son’s high-school baseball game. Other governors have used state helicopters to attend to family and personal affairs, but Christie took it to the next level by having a car to take him the 100 yards from the helicopter to the stands.

    That is all.

  38. Jameson Quinn:

    Right. But there was at least one actual doctor talking about Reagan’s alzheimers at the time. Though he didn’t get media play of course.

  39. El Tiburon:

    But but but – Obama fit the Tiger Woods mold of an acceptable black man. The Williams sisters in tennis, not so much.

    So, Obama was close enough to the Presidential-type for those Americans who did not feel comfortable with a black President to vote for.

    Sadly, conventional wisdom rules a great many of our citizenry. Look at MSM and joints like Politico.

  40. Djur:

    Come on. Look at George W. Bush, look at Al Gore. Who looks more “presidential”? Same with W. and John Kerry. Same with Obama and Mitt Romney, who looks like a movie president. At the time, H.W. Bush definitely more closely matched the public’s idea of ‘president’ than Bill Clinton, but who won?

    There hasn’t been a single president since JFK who looked “like a president”, and there wasn’t a single one before him who did.

  41. daveNYC:

    Not my point. In the quoted passage, Campos talks about Christie internalizing a message that he implies is based on fat-hating, later in the article he brings up the 20% increase in mortality, which means that there actually is a good reason for Christie to lose some weight.

    And as others have mentioned, his comparison of Hillary and Christie is only taking age into account. It’d be nice to see what the actuarial tables say about women of her age and weight compared to men who are similar to Christie.

  42. shah8:

    Politicians hide the severity of their health issues. I’m not sure about fat, but the memory of Reagan’s early onset Alzheimer’s, Wilson’s stroke, and to a lesser degree, Paul Tsonga’s cancer issues gives me pause.

    Dude is young enough to be as overweight as he apparently is, but in my personal experience, older people who are seriously overweight can decline pretty quickly. One aspect of this issue that has always annoyed me with people like Campos, is how much they focus on mortality, and not quality of life issues. Life ought to not suck, and people ought to have the physical capability to do their jobs.

    Before anyone starts, he’s obviously overweight to the point that there are health considerations, even if he didn’t want a demanding job. He doesn’t have a big frame, and he looks to be, what, 80lbs over, minimum? A quick bit of googlefu doesn’t yield anything like specifics.

  43. wengler:

    His public browbeating of teachers was enough to put me off of him forever.

  44. wengler:

    There’s never been a really fat president in the television age.

  45. expatchad:

    He has a unique iatrogenic problem now…

  46. expatchad:

    Bur just about everybody (I think) has seen photos of Taft.

  47. expatchad:


  48. expatchad:

    They didn’t find a horse buried with Richard III….did they find the missing edit button?

  49. Richard:

    If we had known about Kennedy’s health problems, he never would have been elected.

  50. expatchad:

    Yet Living-ists always seem to win out in the end.

    I used to treat the dead professionally…and THEY always won in the end.

  51. Jameson Quinn:

    OK, I see what you’re saying now. But Christy knows enough about his own health that he proboably could ignore his weight without harming his evaluation. Insofar as he’s fitter or less fit than he looks, that is more important for his mortality risk than just pounds.

  52. expatchad:

    I would point out that they weren’t reponsible for his demise…

  53. DocAmazing:

    Taking it lying down, y’might say.

  54. expatchad:

    The relationship between Christie’s weight and his presidential ambitions is that his weight adds to his resemblance to Fred Flintstone.


  55. catclub:

    If we had also known how angry and paranoid Nixon was, it might turn into a dead heat.

    Was Harold Stassen running that year?

  56. DocAmazing:

    You don’t consider high-velocity lead toxicity to have been one of his health problems? It wasn’t a preexisting condition, that’s true…

  57. Bill Murray:

    or Pat Paulsen

  58. sparks:

    Be that as it may, musing here really doesn’t count. I mean incidents such as having fellow coworkers or participants on forums give medical opinions or advice directly to the individual afflicted. One forum I participate in had an ADHD member given some truly bad advice by others.

    Oliver Hardy couldn’t be a comedy star today, half his fan mail would be recommendations as to what he should do about his weight. The other half would be taunts.

  59. Anonymous:

    Oh, you’ve “known several people”? I apologize for questioning your sterling credentials.

  60. Anonymous:

    Reagan’s early onset Alzheimer’s,

    Unless Reagan was symptomatic in the mid-1970′s, he did not have early onset Alzheimers.

  61. The Dark Avenger:

    I’m sorry that I can’t process my experience and observations into a blog comment to your satisfaction.

  62. The Dark Avenger:


    Presidential candidate

    Stassen was later best known for being a perennial candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States, seeking it 12 times between 1944 and 2000 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992).

  63. Substance McGravitas:

    I think you have the losing end of the argument.

    This is probably just evidence that he’s an asshole.

  64. The Dark Avenger:

    That’s why I didn’t reference it, it proves nothing about his condition, then or now.

  65. liberalrob:

    I guess I missed when they added the ability to complete a marathon to the qualifications for the office of President of the United States.

  66. expatchad:

    It was fatal far earlier than might be expected from normal or conventional velocity toxicity, if you’re going to use velocity as a diagnostic…

  67. Chris Campbell:

    I don’t think FDR could have walked half a mile, at all. Seemed to get through almost four terms and nearly a whole world war OK.

  68. expatchad:

    I have known several Anonymouses (Anonmi?) and I have had great difficulty telling them apart…they all sound the same.

  69. expatchad:

    ANONOMI Damn, lost the edit button AGAIN.
    Might have to learn to type. If anybody sees it….

  70. DocAmazing:


    doo doo doo doo doo

  71. The Dark Avenger:

    Being able to walk 880 yards without shortness of breath would be enough for me.

  72. The Dark Avenger:

    That’s funny you brought him up, because the public was intentionally misled as to how limited his mobility was due to the case of polio he suffered back in the 1920s.

  73. Dave:

    Well, that is the question, isn’t it? Has the US public changed enough to cope, or are the majority of them still prejudiced assholes?

  74. Dilan Esper:

    I thought there were more living homo sapiens than dead ones, due to geometric population growth.

  75. Sebastian H:

    That question almost answers itself.

  76. The Dark Avenger:

    Roosevelts’ health from 1944 onward was also kept hidden from the American public, the reason Truman was chosen over Wallace was because the party bosses knew that there was a 100% probability that FDR wouldn’t survive his fourth term.

  77. Bijan Parsia:

    Well, the doctor may have done a hamhanded job of it, but I think a doctor could be quite well qualified to do that.

    Given the reported opining, this doctor wasn’t.

    All even a competent doctor could do re: long distance assessment of Christie’s mortality-in-office probability would be to use rather general, population level epidemiological based on very poor data about Christie. And you don’t need to be a doctor to make that assessment (it’s not that hard to find relevant data). All being a doctor does in this case is put an unwarranted quality boost on the assessment.

    I’d go further and say that the doctor in question acted unethically. There’s no esp. reason to fear Christie dying in office. He’s not hanging by a thread (for all that we know). The right thing to have said is “blah blah blah General data show that people with obestity level III have elevated risk of mortality and morbidity. Now, it’s hard to apply this to a particular case without a lot of data I don’t have (e.g., an examination). And even then, the elevation in risk, while large in relative terms, is still small in absolute terms. Christie is clearly able to carry out a demanding job at the moment and we should presume that he’s not defying a recommendation from his doctor. Given all that, his health is a negligible reason to not vote him. There’s plenty of other reasons so pick one of them.”

  78. Crackity Jones:

    God what a dangerous man, in terms of all the cock worship I see him get from my liberal friends. Hil beats anyone in 2016 though, if she runs.

  79. Substance McGravitas:

    Has there been an LGM wrap-up of her tenure at State?

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