The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Thin Line on Obesity

In response to Pelosi Goes Low on Fat

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my piece defending Nancy Pelosi’s comments that the President of the United States is “morbidly obese.” He writes:

“Morbid” obesity is not defined by the CDC, as Kearns notes, but when it is used in the literature (e.g., here) it tends to be associated with a body mass index well in excess of anything plausibly attributed to Trump.

Fair enough. On reflection, this aspect of my argument was clumsily expressed. To clarify, I presumed Pelosi’s definition of “morbid” to be similar to that of the Oxford dictionary — “medical: connected with disease.” By this Oxford definition, all obesity is morbid. Though, yes, by medical standards, and applied to Trump, this description is hyperbolic and inaccurate.

Ponnuru further argues that Pelosi’s intent was “obviously to ridicule the president for his girth.” Perhaps Ponnuru is deducing this from the wider context, but taking Pelosi’s comments at face value, she does not snigger, smirk, or call him names. Instead, she says that he is “morbidly obese” — a statement which, depending on your definition of “morbid,” is at least partially true.

Ponnuru is absolutely correct to suppose that I do not wish to defend “making fun” of people because of their weight. But I don’t believe that is what I’ve done in this instance. Whatever Pelosi’s intentions (and my piece was about more than just her comments), the health of a serving president is always in the national interest. So too is discussing — frankly, albeit with compassion — the very real health risks associated with obesity.

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