Chris Christie's Struggle and the Politics of Weight

VIDEO: New Jersey Gov. Christie Tells Irresponsible Ex-WH Doctor to Shut Up

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's weight is back in the spotlight this week. On Monday he joined in on the fat jokes with David Letterman, even munching on a doughnut; on Tuesday he seriously addressed his struggles at a press conference.

The usually tough-talking 50-year-old Republican openly acknowledged that he may have good health right now, but his "doctor continues to warn me that my luck is going to run out relatively soon, so believe me, it's something I'm very conscious of."

"If you talk to anybody in this room who has struggled with their weight, what they will tell you is that every month, every year there's a plan … and so the idea that somehow I don't care about this, of course I care about it, and I'm making the best effort I can and sometimes I'm successful and other times I'm not," Christie said at a firehouse Tuesday in Union Beach, N.J.

And with those honest words, an issue that was in the public eye as he contemplated a presidential run in 2012 came roaring back into the spotlight. His communications office even tweeted out the clip from his official @GovChristie Twitter account.

Despite what he claims is good health, he did spend several hours in the hospital in July 2011 after an asthma attack, which he blamed on humidity and high temperatures.

Christie is far from the only politician who's dealt with a weight issue. Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, now-Fox News host Mike Huckabee lost over 100 pounds before he ran for president, talking openly and even writing a book about how he went from "zero exercise" to running marathons. President Bill Clinton lost weight in office, but dramatically slimmed down after his heart surgery in 2004, even becoming vegan before his daughter Chelsea's 2010 wedding. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour once said that it would be clear he was running for president if he lost 40 pounds. Even Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama's pick for surgeon general, had to endure criticism that, despite her experience and credentials, she was too overweight for the job.

This past week is hardly the first time Christie has addressed the issue. Last December, in her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2012? ABC News' Barbara Walters, the governor defended his health when he told Walters, "Well, I've done this job pretty well and I think people watched me for the last couple weeks and during Hurricane Sandy doing 18-hour days and getting right back up the next day and still being just as effective, so I don't really think that would be a problem."

Even during his 2009 run for the New Jersey governorship he had to endure his opponent's trying to use his weight against him. Then Gov. Jon Corzine ran an ad that ended with Christie stepping out of a car in slow-motion. The ad also accused him of "throwing his weight around" to get out of a traffic ticket. It was widely panned and political observers, as well as polling, thought it contributed to Corzine's loss.

But politically speaking, the issue may not be as bad as is widely assumed. Two thirds of Americans struggle with their weight and one third are obese. Also, in 2010 political scientist Beth J. Miller and psychologist Jennifer D. Lundgren, of the University of Missouri in Kansas City, published research showing that being overweight did hurt political candidates, but only female ones.

Obese women were evaluated most negatively, but obese men came out well, doing even better than thinner men.

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