Political pundits are already speculating about who will run for office in 2016. And while Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice for the Democrats, all eyes have been on New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie.
And much of that talk has been less about his politics and more about his weight.
Earlier this month, former White House doctor Connie Mariano told CNN that she thought that Christie was too fat and “worried about this man dying in office.” As soon as those words left her mouth, she and Christie found themselves in an unwanted national debate.
Howard Kurtz noted that “Christie is grossly overweight, and his health would be a legitimate issue if he runs for president in 2016.” Marc Ambinder, a recipient of bariatric surgery, pointed out that Christie has legitimized questions about the relationship between his weight and his (literal) fitness for the presidency: ”Christie himself has acknowledged that his weight raises the probability that he will acquire debilitating medical conditions, and has thus admitted to the public square a fact about his body that requires communal judgment.”
But let’s keep it real: Should Christie’s weight even be a topic of conversation? And does it further stigmatize obese and overweight Americans?
I’ll admit this is a tricky one, because on one hand the health of our elected leader is very important. The stress of being the president of the United States is extremely high, and it makes sense that in order to adjust to the strenuous lifestyle of being the leader of the Free World takes good health.
Granted, Christie wouldn’t be the first politician whose health has come under fire. He isn’t the first one whose health has been scrutinized. President Obama’s on-again, off-again nicotine addiction has been in the media spotlight over the years. President Bill Clinton had a battle with the bulge in the '90s. And most recently Hillary Clinton's recent health issues with blood clots and concussions have garnered some concern about her ability to lead.
But here’s the deal: There isn’t any data out there that validates our concerns.
Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, recently told the Chicago Tribune, “It's about a perception that somehow obese people are viewed as weak-willed or undisciplined. We've got to get past this as a society.”
I agree with Foster. What message are we sending: If you want to be in politics, only the thin and healthy need apply?
Really, we should be less concerned with a politician’s body mass index and more cognizant of a politician’s values and how their leadership would impact us as a nation. In Black America, we have high unemployment, health disparities and the future of the Affordable Care Act, the war on women’s bodies, not to mention an HIV/AIDS epidemic to think about. We need to be looking at where Christie stands on these issues, not what he is putting in his mouth.
Let’s not allow ourselves to get caught up in this silly debate and lose sight of what’s really at stake for us.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)