This is not a commentary on Chris Christie's character or his politics. If the man wants to run for president, he should, no matter his weight. However, as a prominent politician in our country, his lifestyle choices -- like President Obama's smoking habit -- should be discussed, if only to address the very pressing public health issues of our day. In an era when health care legislation is at the forefront of the political agenda and cost cutting at every level is an imperative, the nation-wide consequences of obesity and sedentary behavior must be addressed honestly. Rather than discuss whether or not being fat disqualifies Christie from a future presidential candidacy, we should turn his struggle with his weight into a conversation about why almost 70 percent of the American people are overweight or obese and what they can do about it.
Christie claims he is the healthiest fat man alive, and it is true that weight is not the end determinant of health. Many "skinny" people eat terribly, are sedentary and smoke. They are equally likely to die from complications due to their lifestyle.
However, it is dubious that Governor Christie is truly "healthy," despite that fact that his current LDL/HDL ratio may be within a normal range. According to the Presidential Fitness Test for Adults (a validated measure of physical fitness applicable to a large population), if Chris Christie were truly "healthy," he could walk a mile in 14:43 min, do at least 20 pushups in a row, and do 36 sit ups in one minute (this would only place him in the "fair" category). According to the USDA's MyPlate, 50 percent of his diet would consist of low-calorie, high-nutrient fruits and vegetables. However, after a 2011 hospitalization for asthma-related breathing problems, Christie admitted: "I weigh too much because I eat too much ... And I eat some bad things too."
Let's be honest: The majority of Americans do not meet these standards. In fact, only 20.5 percent of the adults in the U.S. adhere to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines of 150 minutes of physical activity and two strength sessions per week. We need to start getting real; if we can't dedicate approximately four hours to moving our bodies in the 168 hours available throughout the week, we are simply not healthy. Fat doesn't necessarily mean unfit, but fat and sedentary has serious consequences.
Currently, in the United States, we spend up to $210 billion on obesity-related health care costs every year, and those costs are expected to rise by an additional $48-$66 billion per year in the foreseeable future. In a time of economic hardship, it has been estimated that an obese individual will pay an additional $2,741 in medical costs each year. Further, and potentially more harmful to our nation, one in four 18-24 years olds are too overweight and out of shape to volunteer for the armed services. The military leaders of outreach group Mission: Readiness say our country's youth is simply too fat to fight and call childhood obesity a "national security crisis."
Based on pictures of his own youth, Chris Christie does not appear to have a propensity toward obesity (although this is only a supposition, as genetic mapping is not yet a component of any gubernatorial health records released to the public). It is reasonable to think that with the right environment, professional help, and willingness to make changes, Christie could lose the weight. In fact, early in 2011, it was reported in the New York Times that he was losing weight working with a trainer and eating more healthy. He states that every fat person has a plan, but, as anyone who has tried to lose weight will tell you, sticking to the plan is the hard part. Being honest about your daily choices is incredibly difficult and humbling. Based on the plethora of articles defending Christie and his struggles with weight, it is clear that many people can relate to his story. Long hours, family commitments, stress, large portions, lack of energy... the list of reasons not to get healthy is long and real. But, in the end, these reasons are just not good enough.
There is so much rhetoric in the political arena regarding the irresponsibility of leaving our nation's debt to our children. We discuss how to trim discretionary spending -- the "pork" -- and tighten our belts. Yet, by continuing to rack up medical costs and spending due to our own lack of control at the dinner table, we leave not only a financial debt for our children, but a hefty physical excess as well. In their adulthood, they will not only have to manage the consequences of the unhealthy habits we have modeled, they will also be caring for us as a result of our apathetic indulgence. Doctors visits, medications, hospital bills, daily care will all fall to them as we become older and can no longer care for ourselves because of what we refuse to acknowledge right now.
Chris Christie's weight doesn't have to be a discussion about presidential fitness, fame-seeking physicians, or snarky late night TV hosts. But it should initiate a dialogue about the literal, physical health of the nation, and Governor Christie would do well by starting it. By being on the forefront of the fat issue, Christie has an unprecedented opportunity not only to lose the weight, but to gain political capital and popular respect, in a realm of national policy change that he is uniquely qualified to lead.
For more by Rachele M. Pojednic, Ed.M., M.S., click here.
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