The Opportunity Cost of Christie's Weight-Loss Surgery
Yesterday, the New York Post broke the story that Chris Christie covertly had a weight-loss procedure known as gastric banding in February.
The New Jersey governor, and possible 2016 presidential contender, said, “I know it sounds crazy to say that running for president is minor, but in the grand scheme of things, it was looking at Mary Pat and the kids and going, ‘I have to do this for them, even if I don’t give a crap about myself.’”
It's impossible to separate Christie the father-husband-friend figure from Christie the would-be president. The governor certainly knew this when he checked into a surgery center on Feb. 16 using a fake name. Still, his procedure was smarter as a personal move than as a political one.
Christie's wife and four children will probably see their father slim down over the coming months. The procedure, less invasive than gastric bypass surgery, involves putting an adjustable silicone band around the upper part of the stomach to limit food intake and make the patient feel more full on less food. Sources told the Post that the governor, who has been rumored to be 300 to 350 pounds, has already lost almost 40 pounds.
According to Allergan Inc., which makes Lap-Bands, a study showed that after two years obese individuals with a body mass index between 30 and 40 lost 70 percent of their excess weight. Then again, according to Bloomberg News, a 2011 study in the Archives of Surgery reported that complications, such as hernias, infection and band slippage, were more prevalent than weight loss and that about half of patients needed to have the band removed.
But Christie's surgery comes with a political opportunity cost.
As Michael Kinsley wrote in a September 2011 Bloomberg View column, "With a determined, disciplined effort, Christie could thin down, and he should -- because the obesity epidemic is real and dangerous. And the president inevitably sets an example."
Christie could have spent the next two years fighting the obesity battle along with America. He could have aligned himself with individuals of various races, creeds and political preferences, who struggle to get not just food, but also nutritious food, on the table and to fit exercise into an already too-busy day.
For a model, Christie could have looked to Mike Huckabee. After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2002, while Arkansas governor, Huckabee lost 110 pounds. In 2005, he published, "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork." He then proceeded to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. His Wikipedia page has a section on "Weight loss and health advocacy." Christie's page, by contrast, has one on "Concern about body weight."
Instead of following Huckabee's gritty example, Christie placed a silicone band between him and all those Americans struggling to shed extra, unhealthy pounds. He underwent a procedure that can cost more than $15,000.
It's not a cure-all: Even with a restricted stomach, he'll have to eat less. So too, it's quite possible that he needed the surgical help. He's dieted and lost weight only to regain it. He works out with a personal trainer.
"Whatever size I happen to be when I have to make decisions about what to do next with my career, I doubt that will play any role or effect in what I decide to do," Christie told the press yesterday.
But when it comes to his career, the ultimate question isn't whether his size plays a role in what he decides to do, but whether his weight -- and how he got to it -- affects what voters decide to do.
(Zara Kessler is an assistant editor and producer for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)