Chris Christie’s Heavy History: Do Extra Pounds Make Stronger Presidents?

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Jason Redmond / Reuters

Some called John McCain too old to be president. Now, is Chris Christie too fat to run?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not (and still might not) announced a 2012 presidential bid, but some of the buzz surrounding him has proven a little, uh, weighty.

In response to concerns that Christie’s above-average weight may affect his health or voter opinion, Timothy Noah of The New Republic postulated (likely in jest) the effect of extra pounds on some of our past presidents.

Noah produced a table comparing our five heaviest presidents (William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Zachary Taylor and Teddy Roosevelt), their BMI and their “greatness” ranking as deduced in 1996 by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

(MORE: Christie’s Heft: Not a Political Liability)

The table reveals that, Taylor aside, weightier presidents skew pretty high on the greatness scale. Not that this proves much (cue the “correlation/causation” rebuttal). The story was also more of a lighthearted experiment than a test of a real theory. Still, it sheds some light on the validity of turning weight into a political debate.

When it comes to a public official, is weight an issue? It is far less immutable than other traits that have marked some presidents of our past. Regardless of Christie’s actual weight and BMI, both of which are undisclosed, it’s important to remember that health matters more than weight.┬áBesides, in a country with a 33.8% obesity rate, Christie hardly sticks out like a sore thumb.

As TNR‘s list proves, a few extra pounds on the scale is not unheard of for a Commander-in-Chief. Sure, the standard presidential mold is tall, trim, Caucasian and independently mobile, but the deviations from that formula have not proven disastrous. See below for a small sampling of “unusual” Chief Executives and decide for yourself if their qualities were impediments.

Shorter (than average): James Madison

Catholic: John F. Kennedy

Disabled: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Biracial: Barack Obama

Unwed: James Buchanan

Older (than average): Ronald Reagan

Click here to see the full BMI/presidential greatness table.

LIST: Chris Christie in the 2011 TIME 100