Viewpoint: Chris Christie’s Weight Isn’t a Big Issue

All other things being equal, Chris Christie's chances of dying in office are much lower than Hillary Clinton's

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D Dipasupil / Getty Images for Extra

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during his 100th town-hall meeting, held at St. Mary's Parish Center in Manahawkin, N.J., on Jan. 16, 2013

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had good reason to lash out at former White House doctor Connie Mariano, who said in an interview with CNN this week that because Christie is fat, she is “worried about this man dying in office.” Christie shot back on David Letterman’s show, “I find it fascinating that a doctor in Arizona who’s never met me, never examined me, never reviewed my history or medical records, knows nothing about my family history could make a diagnosis from 2,400 miles away. She must be a genius.” After hearing Mariano’s claims, Christie’s 12-year-old son asked him if he was going to die. Given that, Christie has every right to be outraged by what he called Mariano’s “irresponsible” statement.

(MORE: See TIME’s cover story “Chris Christie: The Boss”)

Strangely, pundits were quick to defend Mariano and cast their own diagnoses from afar. Howard Kurtz noted that “Christie is grossly overweight, and his health would be a legitimate issue if he runs for President in 2016.” Marc Ambinder, a recipient of bariatric surgery, pointed out that Christie has legitimized questions about the relationship between his weight and his (literal) fitness for the presidency: “Christie himself has acknowledged that his weight raises the probability that he will acquire debilitating medical conditions, and has thus admitted to the public square a fact about his body that requires communal judgment.”

It’s unfortunate that, despite his pugnacious reply to Mariano, Christie seems to have partly 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. Last year Christie revealed to Oprah Winfrey that he has been struggling for 30 years to lose weight, and on Feb. 12 he said that even though he considers himself “remarkably healthy,” he takes seriously the medical warnings that “my luck is going to run out relatively soon.”

I am not a doctor; if I were, I trust I wouldn’t have the poor judgment to make claims about Christie’s health solely on the basis of his weight. But I am very familiar with the statistical facts regarding the relationship, at a population-wide level, between various risk factors and early mortality.

(MORECan You Be Fat and Fit—and Thin and Unhealthy?)

Here are some facts relevant to the question of the moment:

In January 2017, Christie will be 54, while the current Democratic front runner for her party’s presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, will be 69. It is true that with all other things being equal, compared with normal-weight people like Clinton, very obese people like Christie have an elevated mortality risk. Specifically, the most recent, detailed and sophisticated study of the question, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that people as heavy as Christie have a 29% increase in mortality risk vs. otherwise similar people of normal weight.

Now, 29% may sound like a significant elevation in risk, but let’s compare it with another factor, one that has a vastly more powerful effect than body weight: age.

Government actuarial tables reveal that with all other things being equal, the odds that a 69-year-old woman will die between January 2017 and January 2021 are 115% higher than the odds that a 54-year-old man will die during that four-year period. In other words, age poses almost exactly four times the mortality risk to Hillary Clinton as weight does to Chris Christie, in regard to the chances that either would die during a first presidential term.

I myself would very much prefer to see Clinton become President than Christie. But my or anybody else’s political preferences do not justify exploiting our culture’s fear and hatred of fat for political gain.

(VIDEO: Chris Christie: Master of Disaster)

28 comments
Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Christie also has a sever anger management problem, proving that he does not have the temperament and self-discipline to be President, with his finger on the button.

AL369
AL369

Christie is a public figure. He should teach his kids not to believe all that the press say.  Lashing out the way he did is definately NOT PRESIDENTIAL

sannanina
sannanina

@robeb4: This is not how it works. Paul Campos talked about a 29% increase in mortality risk, not a 29% decrease in life expectancy. The two are not synonymous. A 29% increase in mortality risk usually means that a person is 29% more likely to die than a reference group in a specified time frame. The decrease in life expectancy for obese people with a BMI 40-45 is 8-10 years according to one source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662372/. Note that this is just one study. There are actually other studies that find a smaller influence.

robeb4
robeb4

If Mr. Campos does not believe Mr. Christie's morbid obesity poses a serious threat to his health, he is seriously deluded. Also, his cited mortality statistics are confusing. According to the Soc. Sec. life expectancy calculator on the Web, a male of Mr. Christie's age on 1/20/2017 will have a life expectancy of 27.9 additional years for a total of 82.3 years. Reduce that by 29% (figure provided by Mr. Campos) and his predicted age at death will be 58.4 years--allowing him to complete slightly more than 1 term. Ms. Clinton's LE, according to this same calculator, will be 17.3 additional years for a total of 86.6 years, more than enough time for her to complete 2 terms beginning on 1/20/2017.

FeebWillis
FeebWillis

I am a Doctor and just as there are people who smoke are healthy, there are people who are morbidly obese who will live a normal life span.  But we are talking about 10-20% of those who smoke and those who are morbidly obese. Christie has around an 80% chance or better of either dying young or having considerable disability because of his weight. I would expect that if he underwent  a thorough  head to toe physical that they would already find deficiencies or advanced aging.  For instance, I will bet that his knees are not normal .  

Christie is actually a very foolish person and is setting a horrible example for young people.  His kid has reason to worry.

The average weight o both mean and women has gone up in the US since the 1960s by 30 pounds and this tracks well with a parallel rise in type II diabetes.  

I have lived in the Southern New York-New Jersey area and the meal proportions at diners are enormous and people who are grossly over weight seem to be oblivious.  They are very similar to people in the deep South who are not only grossly over weight but have the highest stroke and heart attack rates in the US. 

You live by Republican Conservatism and you die by it. 


atinkersdamn
atinkersdamn

I am a Christie fan on many issues, but if the man has ambition to be the leader of our country he must face his denial of junk food addiction. If he were an alcoholic or a gambler in the same manner of his eating issues, we would not be saying his obesity, based in self-indulgence , is not an issue. Per his own claim to be the healthiest fat man we know, we can rule out other reasons for his "fattness".  He is fat because he is an over-eater, and one who clearly relies of comfort foods to relieve his stress or whatever his other fat person issues may be.  

He can get angry at the Dr. who said she worried about his dying in office, and then guilt us with claiming SHE was responsible for worrying his 12 year old son . . .  come on . . . let's get HONEST.  We would ALL  be worried that our leader, if he were more important than a father or Governor, was not able to manage his addiction to junk food.  Not just the MD's but ALL of us would be worried that this obese man, with many great ideas and traits, was unable to get with an Al Roker approach to wellness.  

The facts are clear.  If Christie has desire to be a GOOD leader in any capacity, he will have to start putting CONVICTION and SELF=DISCIPLINE , not money or food, WHERE his MOUTH is.  

I recommend he get serious about his addiction if he wants to be one who leads by example, and not just mouth, bluster and blubber.

We do not accept being put on  a guilt trip because we care.  That is typical addict behavior. Denial is a serious symptom of your problem sir, and we encourage you to get educated on food addiction.  ~


imskeptical
imskeptical

Christie's weight is mainly an issue only because we still tolerate open discrimination against fat people.  Weight is one of the few remaining things people can still be rude about and not get called out for their remarks.  Any President could die or be killed in office.  I'm not voting for the youngest, most physically fit candidate, and I certainly hope others don't decide on that basis either.  That doctor was out of line, and so are others who insist that Christie's weight is anyone else's business.

SrihariYamanoor
SrihariYamanoor

Christie's weight is absolutely an issue, unless you have been smoking whatever is collectively smoked by the good folks at Time. 

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SimonPits
SimonPits

But all things aren't equal, so comparing a healthy 54-yo man to a 69 yo healthy woman is not relevant here. What's Christie's mortality rate based on weight, age family history, and perhaps some data from a recent doctor's visit (blood pressure, resting heart rate).

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

One need not be a physician or make a diagnosis to see that Governor Christie is out of control.  I can picture his heart working extra hard to beat surrounded by all that fat. 

DebraSY
DebraSY

@FeebWillis The average weight of both men and women has gone up since the 1960s, and this tracks with a number of factors, not just portion sizes.  Since 1960, humans have introduced and used increasing amounts of bovine growth hormone and livestock antibiotics.  (How can we expect to consume flesh and milk from creatures whom we artificially fatten and not expect consequences?)  Humans have also introduced drug effluent into the drinking water (birth control, etc.).  Humans have introduced transfats into their diets, increasing inflammation, which is also linked to weight control issues.  Humans have monkeyed with the natural macrobiotic mix of their diets -- emphasizing carbs over proteins and fats  -- which has had consequences for insulin regulation and hunger control.   Our diet has become increasingly imbalanced by processed foods that feature corn fillers and soy (the latter having hormonal implications).   Our taste buds have been deadened by new artificial sweeteners, which arguably affects quantity and quality of food consumption.  Ubiquitous sanitation protocols -- hand sanitizers, etc. -- have altered the balance of our natural gut flora.  

On the flip side, I would argue that our exercise has actually increased since the 1960s.  We are no longer doing Jack Lalanne leg lifts in ballet slippers or Keds.  We do serious aerobics in New Balance 992s.  Since Title IX, young girls have joined the ranks of serious sports competitors.  In 1972, 1 in 27 girls participated in sports and now it's 1 in 2.5.  You would think this increase in physical activity would mitigate the "obesity epidemic" to some degree for young women over young men, and yet we haven't seen that.  

Rather than condescendingly declaring morbidly obese people "oblivious," why don't you ask yourself the following question:  "What powerful force is at work that makes some people eat such enormous amounts of food despite horrible judgment, social alienation, depression and other consequences of being fat in our modern society?"  The answer is probably related to endocrine disruption, epigenetic factors, etc.  Fat people are not "oblivious"; they are painfully aware of their predicament, but no one offers them long-lasting help, just simplistic advice like "eat less and move more."  As a doctor, I would hope you would stop contributing to society's shallow, easy judgments and start thinking more critically and compassionately.

jay.clemons
jay.clemons

@imskeptical - Christie's weight is mainly an issue because obesity is so highly correlated with poor health. We want our president do her job, not to go on disability and waste the country's time for any part of those 4 years, right? A candidate's health is absolutely a legitimate concern of voters. Of course, any president could die in office, but many people are not going to want to elect someone who is likely do die or become disabled in office. 

liberalrob
liberalrob

@Hollywooddeed Wow, that's amazing!  Can you also picture cancer and other illnesses just by looking at someone?

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

So does serial womanizing.  Hasn't kept many a politican (including a highly popular former president) out of office.

liberalrob
liberalrob

@Leftcoastrocky Yeah, when that 3:00 AM call comes, how will he be able to answer it with his mouth full of sammich?


"Self-discipline issues" are a crock.  There are plenty of reasons to not support Chris Christie.  His weight is not one of them.  William Howard Taft was also overweight, in a time where medical science was far less advanced than it is today, and he made it through his term OK.

imskeptical
imskeptical

@jay.clemons @imskeptical Most of those studies that showed weight had a huge impact on health turned out to be untrue.  The researchers' own biases influenced outcomes.  Christie is reportedly very energetic, and he does not look his age. We don't know his genetic makeup or his family medical history.  If he is a very active overweight person, his health is much different than that of an inactive overweight person.  I think most of this "concern" is nothing more than an excuse to pry and be rude.  When the time comes, he can bring his parents on stage and then no one will give his weight a second thought. 

jay.clemons
jay.clemons

@bryanfred1 - But serial womanizing HAS kept many a politician out of office, particularly when it was known in advance! We judge candidates for the most powerful office in the world on a number of issues, and age and health are certainly important criteria of fitness for the presidency, along with judgment, intellect, temperament, and even positions on issues! The presidency is a very stressful job; and unless one sleeps through it (like a highly popular former gipper), the stresses for someone who is morbidly obese could literally be a killer.  

SrihariYamanoor
SrihariYamanoor

@liberalrob @Leftcoastrocky I don't think it has to do with opposition as much as concern. Of all the Republican possibilities, this is the guy I mind the least, but we would be insecure with a future President that is essentially "at risk" 24x7. 

Apolitically, Hillary's or Biden's ages would pose the same issue of a disproportional health based risk. 

imskeptical
imskeptical

@Leftcoastrocky @imskeptical @jay.clemons "Untrue" as in false.  I wasn't aware that we were required to submit a points and authorities in order to comment.  Do your own research.  It's well documented that the conclusions of those early studies stating weight alone had a huge impact on overall health were false.  Probably they were a product of the researchers' own prejudices; in any case, later studies compared people more carefully and controlled for cholesterol, diabetes, etc., and there wasn't that much difference between overweight people and others.  Christie has said his cholesterol is normal and he is not pre-diabetic: "I'm probably the healthiest fat guy you've ever met"  (on Letterman).  I'm sure he knows he should lose weight, but having other people tell him, and raise this (mostly) nonissue as to his health, is not helpful and in fact is just bullying.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

@imskeptical @jay.clemons "Most of those studies that showed weight had a huge impact on health turned out to be untrue."  What is "untrue" is your unsupported statement, imskeptical. 



jay.clemons
jay.clemons

@imskeptical @jay.clemons - Every study I've ever seen has found that excessive weight is, in proportion, a causal factor for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other health problems; including the study of studies that sannanina linked to in her(?) comment. Ask any health provider! 

Here's a thought experiment for you. Imagine that a large group of athletes in Japan, for cultural reasons, embarked on a regimen of adding weight to make themselves more formidable as wrestlers. This group of otherwise quite healthy athletes, added weight intentionally until they were "morbidly obese." What do you imagine would be the health effects of the added weight? Well,  imskeptical, such a group actually exists - the Sumo wrestlers. And their life expectancy is between 60 and 65, more than 10 years less than the average Japanese male. And they often develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and are prone to heart attacks. Not a study; just the actuarial facts!

You are also wrong, I think, about the expressed "concern" being just an "excuse to be rude". Mr. Christie is an attractive and charismatic public figure, and a popular governor with a broad political appeal. People generally wish him well, I think, and wish him healthy. But he himself, as this article points out, understands that his weight is a health liability, and that he has been trying to lose weight. I wish him success, for his own sake, and for the sake of the people who depend on his public service.