Gov. Christie's obesity risks

Governor Chris Christie has done the fight against the obesity epidemic in America no favors, when he lashed out against a former White House physician worrying he might die in office as a result of complications caused by his excess weight.

This doctor certainly isn’t the only physician in the country capable of observing obesity (with its well known complications) from afar. Despite the governor’s claim that no doctor has a right to diagnose him without consultation (absolutely true), this is not the same as pointing to the obvious risks of obesity and certainly morbid obesity (likely his condition).

Obesity is most commonly caused by a combination of excessive dietary calories, lack of physical activity, and genetic susceptibility, as well as occasionally by endocrine disorders, medications or psychiatric illnesses.

The governor said during a David Letterman interview on late-night TV: “I am the healthiest fat guy you ever have ever seen in your life”. Thus, while medications and psychiatric illness can undoubtedly be excluded from the causes of Mr. Christie's obesity, eating too much and exercising too little can not. However, like another fat Republican, Mr. Gingrich (who likes chocolate and beer), joking about morbid obesity should NEVER be labeled as a healthy condition, nor should a public figure of such (hefty) stature ever promote being fat as OK.

Estimates suggest that obesity accounts for 5 to 15% of deaths each year in the United States.  The prevalence of overweight and obesity changed little until the 1980s, but in the past 15 years obesity rates have increased by 48%. Morbid obesity shortens life expectancy by approximately 10 years, and moderate obesity shortens it by about 3 years.

Body Mass Index (BMI), a measurement which compares weight and height, defines people as overweight when their BMI is between 25 kg/m2 and 30 kg/m2, and obese when it is greater than 30 kg/m2. Obesity increases the likelihood of various diseases, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis

As a governor, Mr. Christie should also be concerned about the economic consequences of obesity:

  • Obesity-related health care costs total around $147 billion annually, roughly 10 percent of total health care spending in the US
  • Obesity-related job absenteeism (about $4.3 b annually)
  • Lower productivity (approximately $506 per obese worker per year)
  • As a person’s BMI increases, so do his or her sick days, medical claims, and health care costs.

There is a significant risk for early heart failure and coronary artery disease in (severely) obese patients, not to speak of sleep apnea and pulmonary hypertension:

As much as Gov. Christie is admired by many for his achievements as a governor of New Jersey, he should calculate his cardiac risks here and seriously consider a more heart-healthy lifestyle and what he will expose his family to in the next ten years if he does not.