May 7 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate who has been the butt of jokes about his waistline, acknowledged having weight-loss surgery in February, calling it a “private” matter.
“The steps I’ve taken recently are for me and Mary Pat and the kids,” Christie told reporters today at an event in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s not a career issue for me.”
“It has nothing to do with running for governor this year or running for president if I ever choose to do that,” Christie said. The first-term Republican, who is seeking re-election in November, said he underwent the 40-minute surgical procedure in the New York University Langone Medical Center on Feb 16. He entered the hospital under a false name.
Christie, who has chronic asthma, said he has struggled with his size for 20 years. He has said his weight shouldn’t bar him from seeking the presidency.
During a Feb. 4 appearance on CBS Corp.’s “Late Show with David Letterman,” the governor said that his cholesterol and blood-sugar levels were both within normal ranges during a physical exam ahead of his 50th birthday in September 2012. The governor nibbled on a doughnut as a gag during the interview.
“I’m basically the healthiest fat guy you’ve ever seen in your life,” he told the comedian, who replied that he should make it the slogan for his re-election campaign.
The governor told Letterman, who has made Christie’s girth the subject of his Top 10 lists, that his wife and kids prod him regularly to lose weight.
Bill Palatucci, a friend and political adviser who is chairman of Christie’s re-election campaign, said in an interview today that he had noticed the governor lost weight, though the surgery was “known only to his family, which is how it should be.”
“It’s very private,” Palatucci said by telephone. He declined to speculate on how much Christie had lost and wouldn’t comment on whether the move signals a 2016 presidential run.
“He’s my friend first and that’s what’s important,” he said.
John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket tycoon and Christie fundraiser who is seeking the Republican nomination for New York City mayor, said Christie didn’t tell him about the surgery. Catsimatidis, who has acknowledged his own weight struggles, said he has lost 20 pounds in the past two months as campaigning keeps him moving from the early morning to 11 p.m. He said he’s also made an effort to eat healthier.
“People expect a trimmer politician for some reason,” Catsimatidis said. “I think it’s an issue, but if a politician is dynamic and forthright, it’s less of an issue.”
In July 2011, a shortness of breath related to chronic asthma forced Christie to detour to a hospital emergency room on the way to a news conference. When he was released after eight hours, he faced a barrage of questions from the national media about his health. He said his weight “exacerbates everything,” and that he was working with a personal trainer.
In a December interview on the ABC television network, he told Barbara Walters that his response to damage left by Hurricane Sandy showed his weight hadn’t slowed him down and that it shouldn’t bar him from seeking the presidency.
In February, Christie called a former White House doctor who said he was dangerously overweight a “hack” and said she should “shut up” unless she examines him. The physician, Connie Mariano, had said on CNN that Christie could have a heart attack or stroke or die because of his weight.
Christie had no public schedule from Feb. 16-18. On Feb. 19, a Tuesday, he was at the Jersey Shore during the day to announce reconstruction of a road destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and then attended a speech in Essex County that evening.
Before the surgical procedure, he consulted with Rex Ryan, the New York Jets professional football coach who had gastric banding in 2010 and lost almost a third of his weight, dropping to 242 pounds, according to the New York Post. Al Roker, weatherman of NBC’s “Today” show, had gastric bypass surgery in 2002.
Christie hired the same laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon as Ryan, George Fielding, head of New York University Langone Medical Center’s Weight Management Program, according to the Post. A phone call to Fielding’s office was referred to Craig Andrews, a spokesman for the medical center. Andrews declined to comment.
Jets spokesman Bruce Speight didn’t respond to a voice message and e-mail seeking comment on whether Christie consulted with Ryan.
More than 500 million people worldwide are obese, according to the World Health Organization. Each year, about 200,000 Americans undergo surgery to help them lose weight. Gastric banding, using small rubber devices like Allergan Inc.’s Lap-Band that are wrapped around the upper stomach to limit capacity, accounts for roughly one-third of the procedures.
After two years, obese patients getting the Lap-Band lost 52 percent of their excess weight, according to data from Allergan. That study looked at patients with a body mass index over 35, which would be a 5 foot 7 inch adult over 220 pounds.
Fielding is one of the country’s top Lap-Band surgeons, who focuses mostly on that procedure, said Caroline Apovian, director at the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center. His patients typically have better than average weight loss because of the support his staff provides around the behavioral and psychological changes that come with the procedure, she said.
“They have got it down to a science,” said Apovian. “It is about the team around the surgeon to help the patient get the most out of that procedure.”
While the Lap-Band is favored by some because it is adjustable, reversible, easy to implant and less expensive than other approaches, doctors have been raising concerns over the past several years about its effectiveness and the risks of the procedure.
About half of patients who had gastric banding needed to have the device removed, according to a 2011 study in the Archives of Surgery that found the treatment caused more complications, such as hernias, infection and band slippage, than weight loss. About 1 of 3 had band erosion, which occurs when the band grows into the stomach.
Allergan, which also makes the Botox wrinkle treatment, said in February that it will sell its Lap-Band unit after sales of the device fell 22 percent in the fourth quarter to $36.8 million.
“If a person can’t lose it on their own in the natural course of business, then they should take the chance and do it,” Catsimatidis said.
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