There are some articles popping up that claim Chris Christie’s weight makes him obviously unfit (heh) to be President. Elspeth Reeve’s has ably identified the goal of these articles and the tiresome, distasteful pattern they follow. Megan McArdle opens her discussion of the articles on Christie’s weight by announcing that she and Jonathan Chait are in agreement that:
... the argument that Chris Christie is somehow unqualified to be president because he is fat is absolutely ridiculous.
McArdle then does her usual good job of outlining - yet again, for all those who weren’t paying attention the first, second, whatever time - the state of research on weight:
The [weight] band that your body wants to occupy is no more a sign of virtue than the color of your eyes. Yet people who would be ashamed to argue that Barack Obama should be excluded from the presidency because of the amount of melanin his skin contains, feel no compunction at all in declaring that your genetic predisposition towards adiposity is an intolerable fault.
Chait focuses on the “moral panic” aspect of articles by Eugene Robinson and Michael Kinsley and concludes:
The only real reasoning I see here is that American elites view obesity with disgust, and they’re repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership. It’s not a very attractive sentiment.
All three - Reeve, McArdle, and Chait - are worth reading and I don’t have anything more to say about the aspects they address so well.
However, there are a couple of things that struck me in these articles. First, Eugene Robinson says, in quick succession:
1) He does not intend to blame Christie for his own obesity.
2) He is sure that Christie wants to live long enough to be around for his children’s milestones.
3) Christie should lead himself.
4) Christie claims he is overweight because he eats too much and the wrong things.
5) It’s not that simple because of genetics and psychological factors.
6) Gastric surgery is available.
7) People who lose weight and keep it off do so through proper diet and exercise.
8) Robinson’s sincere advice to Christie: “Eat a salad and take a walk.”
So, once again, which is it: Christie can and should lose weight by eating less and exercising more or Christie can’t lose weight unless he has gastric surgery? Or perhaps it’s that obesity is really hard to write about coherently when a writer is trying to score political points in the context of a topic about which he knows nothing except a series of sound bites.
Second, Michael Kinsley says:
Controlling what you eat and how much is not easy, and it’s harder for some people than for others. But it’s not as difficult as curing a chemical addiction.
Kinsley does not provide a link backing up this claim and perhaps he’s correct. However, I spent about 10 minutes using Google and I found the following recovery rate claims:
Alcoholism: perhaps as high as 35%
Heroin: perhaps as high as 32%
Meth: perhaps as high as 15%
Obesity: perhaps as high as 20% - if success is defined as “intentionally losing 10% of initial body weight and not regaining it”.
So if these numbers are anywhere near right, it looks to me like “[c]ontrolling what you eat and how much” is at least “as difficult as curing a chemical addiction”. And this is with a very, very low definition of recovery from obesity. How low? Well, if Chris Christie weighs 286 pounds (the minimum Robinson thinks he weighs), he would weigh 257 pounds if he “recovered” under this definition. Somehow I don’t think that would result in Robinson lauding Christie’s leadership or Kinsley okaying Christie’s “character” and “control”. (I can’t find decent numbers on people who start out obese, lose enough weight to be considered “normal” weight, and keep that weight off. The number usually tossed around is 1 to 2% which is far lower than the numbers for alcoholism, heroin, or meth.)
Same thing with that bariatric surgery Robinson recommends as a way off the “dieting roller coaster”. According to Weight Watchers (citations in original):
Results of Surgery
Patients lose an average of 50% of the excess weight with all bariatric procedures and this is usually achieved 12-18 months after the surgery and regain 10-15% over three to ten years.
So if Christie weighs 286 pounds and Robinson thinks he should weigh at most 214 pounds (to avoid falling into the “obese” category), Christie’s “excess weight” is 72 pounds. If he underwent bariatric surgery, he would lose 36 pounds which would bring him down to 250 pounds, then regain 7-11 pounds, leaving him between 257 and 261 pounds. Again, I don’t think either Robinson or Kinsley are going to decide that Christie’s weight is no longer an “issue” at 257 pounds.
People love to write about obesity. Especially people who aren’t obese. The fact that no one understands obesity is irrelevant to them; they are quite sure that their lack of obesity makes them experts on the subject.
Personally, I’d much rather have a fat President who can get done at least some of the things I believe need doing than a thin one can’t get anything constructive done at all. However, I suspect one reason Christie can do what he’s doing in New Jersey is because he understands State politics; I imagine he knows where the bodies are buried and may even have planted a few himself. So I’d prefer he stay where he is for now and spend the next four years continuing to fix New Jersey while getting himself plugged into national politics.
I’m pretty sure the country will still need Christie’s services in 2017. And maybe by then pundits will be less confused about what Christie’s obesity supposedly says about his character and more interested in what Christie’s track record actually says about his ability.