Inquirer Editorial: Christie's burden and the country's

Gov. Christie shared a pastry with David Letterman last week.
Gov. Christie shared a pastry with David Letterman last week. (CBS)
Posted: February 15, 2013

For all his tough talk, Gov. Christie showed some vulnerability recently on the subject of his weight. It was a reminder that many Americans need help, not derision, to confront the serious problem of obesity.

Christie himself helped revive the debate about his weight by joking about it during an appearance last week on the Late Show with David Letterman. Christie even gamely pulled a couple of jelly doughnuts out of his pockets as he bantered and laughed with Letterman, who has made Christie a regular punch line. Responding to the host's questions about his health, the governor quipped, "I'm basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life."

A day later, though, it was no longer a laughing matter for Christie. After a former White House physician worried aloud that Christie is a "time bomb" who runs the risk of dying in office from a heart attack or stroke, the governor fired back, blasting the doctor as a "hack" who was scaring his children. The issue surfaced again when a reporter asked Christie if New Jerseyans should be concerned about his health.

The governor had a point about the callousness and irresponsibility of the TV diagnosis. Like it or not, though, the health of elected officials and candidates is the public's business, and obesity is a health problem. If Christie runs for president in 2016, as many expect him to, he will have to decide how to handle many more questions about his weight.

Christie, 50, has struggled with his weight for most of his adult life, and he is far from alone. Millions of Americans have tried unsuccessfully to shed pounds. We simply tend to exercise too little and eat too much.

The problem has reached epidemic rates. A third of Americans are obese, and two-thirds are overweight. Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for the military, making it a national security concern. And a troubling report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine last month found that Americans are generally in worse health than people in other wealthy nations, and obesity was among the top contributing factors.

But ridicule and scolding can't be expected to help Christie or anyone else. As with smoking, Americans need to know the precise dangers of obesity, and, as Christie's struggle shows, they need help changing their eating and exercise habits. Newark Mayor Cory Booker seems to understand that, having offered city employees discount Weight Watchers memberships. Austin, Boston, and Pittsburgh have taken similarly therapeutic steps.

Perhaps because so many others have experienced the same problem, Christie's weight doesn't seem to have hurt his standing in New Jersey, where he has a 74 percent approval rating. And the governor says he has a plan to lose weight. If he succeeds, he may win even more admiration, as well as the last laugh.

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