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Several months ago, former Clinton-era White House physician Dr. Connie Mariano commented on news network CNN that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is too heavy for the Oval Office. Not surprisingly, Christie responded with "Shut up." But is he too fat?

Millions of Americans find New Jersey's frank and opinionated Republican Governor Chris Christie a welcome voice on the political scene. No slave to diplomacy, but giving evidence of genuine concern about people, Christie is considered a leading contender, one might even say, the biggest contender, for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

But at a height of 5'11" (180 cm) and a weight estimated at 350 pounds (160 kilos), is Christie's morbid obesity a disqualifying factor for the nation's highest office?

No Heavy-Set Presidents Since Taft

There is precedent for Americans electing an obese politician to the Presidency. William Howard Taft, the twenty-seventh President of the United States and later the tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, carried 30 of the then-46 states in the presidential election of 1908, despite carrying 335 pounds on his also-5'11" frame.

Americans of the era equated size with strength, and Taft's size was considered to be a positive attribute, perhaps compensating for the fact that he also had bad teeth and wore his hair in a comb-over. Taft lived for 22 years after the 1908 election, eventually succumbing to arteriosclerotic heart disease at the age of 73.

So with 100 years of improvement in medical technology, is Chris Christie less likely to serve his term in office than Taft?

Christie Not Leaving Health Concerns to Chance

Unknown to Christie's critics in February 2013, even while CNN commentator Dr. Eleanor (Connie) Mariano, a Democrat, was pronouncing Christie unfit for office, Christie had recently undergone lapband surgery to reduce the size of his stomach so he was less likely to be hungry, or at least less able to overeat. In early May, citing previous failed weight loss efforts, Christie reported that he had lost approximately 40 pounds (18 kilos) in 10 weeks. Prior to Christie's May news conference, not even the governor's closest associates had known that he had had the surgery or even that he had been considering it. Just a week before the surgery, Christie had been made light of his weight by munching a doughnut on the David Letterman show. But as the governor became noticeably smaller, a public announcement was in order.

Christie belittled the public's fascination with his weight, but told a group of reporters that the matter had taken on new urgency after he passed the age of 50, and "You know, people in public life have the same concerns that people in private life have,” he said, adding,

"Just because I have a public office and I have some measure of notoriety doesn’t mean that my feelings about my family and my concerns about their future are any different than yours or anybody else that’s sitting here."

Some political commentators recognize that Christie's struggles with his weight make him a more believable, sympathetic character. But is morbid obesity really a potential death sentence.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Kapoor JR, Heidenreich PA.Obesity and survival in patients with heart failure and preserved systolic function: a U-shaped relationship. Am Heart J. 2010 Jan.159(1):75-80. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2009.10.026.
  • Photo courtesy of PBS NewsHour by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/newshour/7888005598/
  • Photo courtesy of Malingering by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/malingering/99089752/