CORPULENT IN CHIEF
Will President Trump’s Physical Show That He’s Obese?
More than ever, it matters if the commander in chief is healthy.
Donald Trump’s physical will take place Friday, his first as president. He’ll be examined by Dr. Ronny Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy and the White House physician since 2013, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
This physical, however, will be anything but routine, providing the American public with rare insight—however sparse—of Trump’s baseline health.
Trump’s most recent public physical was done in September 2016 under his longtime physician Harold Bornstein in New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. Bornstein’s letter (which the White House has since removed) proclaimed the then-candidate’s “physical strength and stamina... extraordinary,” pointing to Trump’s recent loss of 15 pounds.
In the letter, Bornstein released a deluge of statistics intended to showcase a candidate that, despite his status as the oldest occupant of the Oval Office, was vibrant and capable of handling the stresses of being the most powerful person in the world.
But in fact, Americans learned that Trump was teetering on obesity.
He was 6-foot-3, weighing 236 pounds. His BMI (though a controversial measure, one that is widely used) rang in at 29.5, which placed him squarely into being considered overweight, and precariously close to being considered obese. Trump’s cholesterol was 169 mg/dL, which isn’t great but isn't necessarily terrible. His HDL (good cholesterol) of 63 and LDL (bad cholesterol) of 94 were also fine but sneaking close to dangerous. To his health’s advantage, Trump is a teetotaler and doesn’t smoke. But any doctor would advise a Trump-like patient to go on a diet.
Compare this to Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. His last presidential physical, released in March 2016, showcased a man in excellent health: At a little over 6-foot-1, his weight was 175 pounds, which meant a BMI of 23.1, considered normal. Obama’s blood pressure (110/68), cholesterol (188 mg/dL, with HDL at 68 and LDL at 125) were all within the boundaries of normalcy and health. Obama was a smoker, but he made some attempts to quit.
Jackson’s evaluation of Trump on Friday will probably offer restricted information. But the vitals that will probably come out—height and weight, at least, an indicator of cholesterol and blood pressure levels—will offer valuable insight into Trump’s health and how the year since he took office has affected him.
What makes this physical particularly interesting for those who are watching is the fact that so much information has been released of Trump’s diet and (lack of) exercise. There are countless reports now of a man who finishes meals with a couple scoops of ice cream paired with chocolate cream pie, washing them down with one of a dozen Diet Cokes a day. His preference for McDonald’s—Filet o’ Fish sandwiches, Big Macs, cheeseburgers as a pre-bedtime snack—apparently stem not only from his fear of being poisoned but the simple fact that he loves the predictability and flat saltiness of the stuff. Coupled with the fact that he finds exercise to be “misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy” and has bragged about sleeping only four hours a night, and the resulting picture is not one of health.
Indeed, Trump’s habits make him a prime example of being a white man in Trump’s America: overweight, underslept, static, maybe even obese. The language of obesity and how we measure it remains hazy despite the fact that it’s considered an American epidemic. But BMI is widely considered the best way to measure obesity, and by that definition—and should Trump’s alleged diet in fact be true—it very well could be that Friday’s publicly announced height and weight markers may show Trump as the most obese modern president, behind bathtub-stuck William Taft (BMI: 42.3), potbellied Grover Cleveland (BMI: 34.6), and original American cowboy Teddy Roosevelt (BMI: 30.2).
Trump’s physical results on Friday may in fact veer his numbers into the dangerous zones they’re so precariously close to. Even if they do, does it mean anything? Does it matter if Trump is not as healthy as he’d like us to believe? No matter your feelings or politics about the current administration, one thing is for sure: The presidency is not an easy job. Can’t a person eat their feelings in peace?
Sure—but Trump is the leader of the free world. He’s apparently got a very large button to shoot nuclear weapons. His words move markets, his signature dictates the lives of refugees. If Trump is sluggish from a couple burgers and a chocolate malt, or slurring his words, feeling irritable from the down of a sugar high, might that affect our daily lives? It very well could.
Trump has vehemently promoted the idea that he is healthy, strong, full of stamina. But stamina is, by definition the ability to exert prolonged, sustained mental and physical effort. If Trump is erratic in his stamina, does it mean he’s unfit for office? That’s impossible to measure, but one fact is for sure: A healthy diet is one that allows for the slow and steady release of nutrients and energy. Various outlets reported the effects of following the Trumpian McDonald’s diet, with universal consensus that it led to exhaustion, irritability, and sluggishness. It’s enough to question if Trump has the actual stamina to lead.
At the very least, Trump’s lifestyle is a recipe for a series of health problems: exhaustion, diabetes, high cholesterol. His diet runs counter to that of what the United States Department of Agriculture suggests is a healthy diet, one where a plate is half fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein, and grains composing the last quarter—with just a smidge of fat and salt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults over 65 to do two-and-a-half hours of moderately intensive cardiovascular activity every week with at least two days of muscle strengthening activities.
Ultimately, Trump’s decision to release information will be up to him. We will probably learn frustratingly few details about what Trump’s health is outside of very basic parameters.
But that might be enough.