Taft and Pickwick: Sleep Apnea in the White House

John G. Sotos, MD

CHEST. 2003;124(3) 

In This Article

Taft's Health as Secretary of War: 1904 to 1908

After suffering a near-fatal rectal abscess, Taft returned to the United States in early 1904 to become Secretary of War. Though removed from the tropics, he was still somnolent, sometimes snoring in meetings with President Roosevelt.[20]

Taft had insight into his problem. In October 1905, he promised his wife: "I will make a conscientious effort to lose flesh. I am convinced that this undue drowsiness is due to the accumulation of flesh. . . were I appointed to the bench I fear I could not keep awake in my present condition."[11(p286),21] He claimed to sleep "very well" at night.[22]

Two months later, Taft began a diet prescribed by Dr. Nathaniel E. Yorke-Davies of London,[22] plus a program of "physical culture."[18,23] Over 5 months, Taft's weight dropped from 320 to 255 pounds.[24]

Taft maintained his reduced weight into September 1906, but by July 1907 he weighed 284 pounds and was becoming noncompliant with Yorke-Davies' diet.[25] As the 1908 Presidential election neared, Taft's weight reached 297 pounds.[26] During the campaign, he fell asleep on speaking platforms, while driving on the street, and while dining out.[17(p195)]


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