Presidential Health: Secrets, Surprises, and Controversies

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


August 14, 2017

Larger Than Life

Figure 7. William H. Taft. Image from Wikimedia.

At the time of his inauguration in 1909, William Howard Taft (1857-1930) weighed 350 lb and was 6'2" tall.[13] With a body mass index (BMI) of 42.3 kg/m2,[14] he clearly would have been a candidate for bariatric surgery. Taft struggled with his weight throughout his entire life, and, like other obese persons, he gained and lost weight repeatedly. He consulted Dr Nathaniel Yorke-Davis, an English physician with an interest in health and nutrition, who outlined a special diet for Taft. Despite trying numerous weight-loss diets, Taft still weighed 280 lb at the time of his death. While alive, he had several embarrassing episodes caused by his obesity. Once, while bathing, he became stuck in the White House bathtub, which he subsequently replaced with an extra-large tub. Taft suffered from several obesity-related diseases, including somnolence, sleep apnea, gout, hypertension, and esophageal reflux. He often fell asleep during meetings and could even sleep while standing up. Several of our presidents have been overweight or obese, including Grover Cleveland (BMI, 34.6 kg/m2), Bill Clinton (28.3 kg/m2), and Teddy Roosevelt (30.2 kg/m2).[14]


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