Presidential Fitness Vs. Popular Fitness!

By: Harry Hayfield: In the USA, obesity is a serious problem. Does the President's fitness level make a difference, or is it just spin? Learn the facts.
As I write this in early 2004, Senator John Kerry has swept to his 18th win out of 20 states in Hawaii, having swept Senator John Edwards away in Idaho and Utah making next Tuesday's "Super Tuesday" contests a mere formality as he gears up toward the November election for President of the United States.

What This Article Is About ...

This will be an election where the fitness of a candidate to be president seems to be more important than ever. And yet, whoever wins the election will govern over a country of approximately 220 million people of whom 67% are officially overweight and 30% medically obese.

Seeing these events from the United Kingdom, I hope would give me a chance to see the whole thing in a bigger context and there is one thing I find hard to fathom. In a country which clearly needs some policies to reduce obesity, so far the issue has not even been raised once.

I am sure you will all remember just before the mid-term rlections the White House revealed the President's fitness test results. The tests were made in August 2001 and revealed President Bush to be "in the top 2% of men for his age for cardiovascular fitness" after undergoing a 26-minute treadmill test which gave a maximum heart rate of 178 beats per minute (as opposed to a resting heart rate of 43 beats per minute), and a blood pressure reading of 118 over 74 millimeters of mercury. He was measured as being 6 feet exactly, and weighing 190 pounds(giving a BMI rating of 25.79 and a body fat rating of 14.5%).

When these figures were reported on Fox News (one of the American news networks I have access to) I found myself asking "Well, what does that have to do with anything?" and so I mentioned this to a polling expert I speak to online and he said "Ah, spin!" He suggested that the reason for the announcement of information regarding the President's health was to bolster claims that he was in tip-top shape to carry on his duties in the "war on terror" and that by backing him by electing GOP congressmen and senators to Capitol Hill, it was the American's people's duty to see that war through to the bitter end. However, I detected a few double standards creeping in.


First, cast your mind back to January 2002. He appeared at a press conference on the latest news from Afghanistan sporting a bruise on his lip. This he put down to a "pretzel going down the wrong way." After a little digging around, it was established that President Bush had choked on a pretzel while watching a football match, something he did every Sunday. Pretzels are a food that most people say should only be had once a month due to their high salt and fat content.


Second, I was asked on the website, "How much money did George Bush spend on his presidency bid?" The answer was a staggering $150 million, but what was interesting was where the money came from. Whilst most came from energy companies (i.e. Enron) a small but significant 5% came from the fast-food industry. This flies in the face of his father who launched the President's Fitness scheme.


Third, his own state of Texas. According to the annual survey by Men's Fitness magazine, Texas has two of the top five fattest cities in the United States, Dallas and Fort Worth. It should also be noted that in the election result for Texas in the year 2000, Bush polled 59% to Gore's 38%. Exit polling suggested that the majority of Bush's support came from those who earned $100,000 or more. This group are also the most likely to suffer from obesity.

"Texas has two of the top five fattest cities in the United States, Dallas and Fort Worth."

So, what can be done to push the issue of American health and fitness to the top of the agenda in November? Well, if we refer to the survey published by Men's Fitness, we find that the fittest cities in the United States are in Hawaii, Washington State, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee and District of Columbia. Of these Arizona, Oregon and Washington have majorities of less than 5% and Tennessee is considered a "bellweather" state having voted for the President since 1944, except for the election of 1960.

If you live in one of these states and are interested in the politics of fitness you can do one of three things:

  • When the various campaigns canvass for your support in the general election ask them "What are your party's policy on the reduction of the obesity rate in America?" and make it clear that you would only support a candidate who practices what their parties preach

  • Write to the editor of your state / town newspaper and put forward the economic as well as health benefits of endorsing a party that advocates fitness (e.g. the money saved by treating few cardiac patients could be used to reduce state taxes)

  • Hold a meeting in your local gym with the party's representatives / Congressmen / Senators and have a question and answer session on the impact of obesity in your community.


If after this, you still find yourself unimpressed with the major parties attitude to fitness (and I realize that for the U.S. this could be deemed a slightly radical proposal) then vote (as a protest) for either a third party candidate or write in the name of someone you feel could be more able to put forward the fitness issue in DC (e.g. a famous state bodybuilder).

I hope that when you come to consider your voting options in November's general election you will take these pieces of information on board. I am always distressed when I read reports about 450-pound people having to have homes built for them and the like. If fitness isn't a major issue in the United States today, then health care costs will be the ONLY issue in years to come.

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