Whether or not he lets himself be persuaded to run for president, Chris Christie needs to find some way to lose weight. Like everyone else, elected officials perform best when they are in optimal health. Christie obviously is not.
You could argue that this is none of my business, but I disagree. Christie's problem with weight ceased being a private matter when he stepped into the public arena -- and it's not something you can fail to notice. Obesity is a national epidemic whose costs are measured not just in dollars and cents, but in lives. Christie's weight is as legitimate an issue as the smoking habit that President Obama says he has finally kicked.
On rare occasions, Christie speaks candidly about his weight. "I'm really struggling, been struggling for a long time with it," he told CNN's Piers Morgan in June. "And I know that it would be better for my kids if I got it more under control, and so I do feel a sense of guilt at times about that."
Six weeks later, Christie was briefly hospitalized for asthma -- a condition that he has suffered most of his life. Researchers say that many respiratory problems, including asthma, are worsened by obesity.
As he left the hospital, Christie acknowledged the connection. He described himself as "relatively healthy by all objective indicators," but added that "if I weighed less, I'd be healthier."
Weight makes everything worse. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity puts people at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and gallbladder and liver disease.
The NIH estimates that nearly 34 percent of U.S. adults can be classified as "obese," meaning they have a body mass index of more than 30. By this standard, a man who stands 5-feet-11 -- Christie's reported height -- would be obese if his weight reached 215 pounds. While Christie does not disclose his weight, it appears to exceed the 286 pounds that would place him among the 5.7 percent of American adults whom NIH classifies as "extremely obese."
On average, health care costs for obese persons are 42 percent higher than costs for individuals whose weight falls into the "normal" range. It costs Medicare $1,723 more a year for an obese beneficiary than a non-obese one. For Medicaid the differential is $1,021, and for private insurers it's $1,140. In other words, obesity is helping propel the rise in health care costs, which are fueling the long-term rise in the national debt.
My intention is not to blame Christie for the federal government's deficit spending -- or, in fact, to blame him for his own obesity. Blame is not the point. Christie is just 49 and has four young children; politics aside, I'm sure he wants to be around to share the milestones in their lives. He prides himself on his bullheaded determination and speaks often about the need for officials to display leadership. Well, Gov. Christie, lead thyself.
Those who have lost weight and kept it off for extended periods, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, say they have succeeded by making proper diet and exercise part of their lives -- not just unpleasant chores that have to be endured.
Politically, I disagree with Christie on almost everything. I'll have plenty of opportunities to tell him why. Today, I'd just like to offer him a bit of unsolicited, nonpartisan, sincere advice: Eat a salad and take a walk.