Porky Politicians Drop Pounds for Votes

NY lawmakers push away the ice cream, hit gym to ready for fall elections.

ByABC News
April 26, 2010, 4:50 PM

April 27, 2010— -- New York Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo and at least a dozen other state lawmakers, some up for re-election, are fighting the battle of the bulge.

"The diet kicks in today," Hoyt told ABCNews.com. "I'm a big-boned fellow in the 230-pound range."

Hoyt, a Democrat, is facing a primary opponent this year and wants to be up to the challenge, so he is back on a diet of "discipline, portion control and exercise."

"When my constituents tell me to trim the fat, I want to make sure they mean the budget, and not me," said Hoyt, 48.

"Vanity has never been such a big issue," he said. "Sure, physical appearance is a small factor, but voters would rather see someone whose belly isn't, you know, huge -- someone who is fit and trim."

At a time when 34 percent of all Americans aged 20 and over are obese, politicians are ever more concerned about their fatty footprint.

"It's interesting that once upon a time in the Tammany Hall era, leaders were big corpulent characters whose hugeness in politics or industry needed to be reflected in their physical presence," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

"You talk about the G-word, a formidable presence used to lend a certain gravitas," he said. "A slim, slip of a thing is not going to move public opinion."

Not so today as a svelte, basketball-playing Barack Obama and his organic gardening first lady Michelle, set a leaner tone at the White House.

"Obama looks good in a bathing suit in Hawaii and even George Bush looked fit," said Thompson. "Clinton was the last -- a fast food pudgie."

"Things have changed, " said Thompson. "With the issue of rampant obesity and consciousness about health, there is now a moral and ethical cloud that might float over someone with a large body type."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who once weighed in at 340 pounds, had gastric bypass surgery in 2003 after admitting he was unable to ride the city subway because he couldn't climb the stairs.

Nadler has since lost 100 pounds.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee touted his 120-pound weight loss over two years as a campaign mantra.

"I'm a recovering food-aholic," the former Arkansas governor told voters. At his peak, the 5-foot 11-incher weighed 300 pounds, once demolishing a century-old antique chair in the state capitol.

And it's not just an American phenomenon. In New Zealand, five national politicians -- members of parliament and cabinet ministers -- have had gastric bypass surgery, according to the Christ Church Press.

As for Hoyt, "It's less about health than about economics," he said. "I can't fit into my suits anymore and I can't afford more suits.

"I also think it's important to send a message," Hoyt said. "It's difficult to acknowledge the health crisis of childhood and adult obesity and yet be overweight yourself."

When President Obama nominated full-figured Regina Benjamin to the post of surgeon general last year, there was an outcry by some well-respected physicians. They said she carried too much around the middle to be the face of America's new healthcare initiatives.

The criticism was so strong that the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance -- whose slogan is, "we come in all sizes" -- jumped to her defense.

But not all portly politicians are the biggest losers.

New Jersey's jumbo-sized gubenatorial candidate Christopher Christie beat incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine last fall, despite attack ads that showed Republican Christie at his heftiest.

Corzine, a Democrat, had accused Christie of "throwing his weight around" to get out of paying traffic tickets.