Despite Donald Trump’s recent official clean bill of health and an assertion from his personal physician that he would be the “healthiest president ever,” the current officeholder ranks 26 out of 44 U.S. presidents, according to a new assessment released to coincide with Presidents Day.
At the top of the list of the overall health rankings is Rutherford B. Hayes, president from 1877 to 1881, who “had a healthy diet, was not obese and abstained from any tobacco use or alcohol abuse,” according to the report, published on a website that provides consumers with information about Medicare supplemental insurance policies.
Runner-up is Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who left office at the relatively young age of 55. But Obama's base score was lower than Hayes’ because of Obama’s “smoking and poor sleep habits,” according to the ranking.
Obama and Trump are the only two presidents “to not lose a point for health issues,” but the intensively competitive Trump may be chagrined to know he merits only a "C" compared to Obama's “A” health grade.
“I think he should probably accept that with good grace,” Iowa State University history professor Stacy Cordery told VOA News.
“Former President Obama was significantly younger than President Trump when he took office. Even though President Obama smoked for a big part of his life and President Trump does not, Obama is much more physically active.”
Trump also totally abstains from alcohol, while his meal choices have been known to lean toward fast-food fare.
Cordery says “any armchair physician” can observe Trump’s borderline obesity and his high stress level in a White House deemed chaotic.
Only two presidents received an “F” health grade: William Taft (who tipped the scales at around 155 kilograms or 341 pounds), and at the bottom of the list, Grover Cleveland, due to a “very unhealthy diet, a complete lack of physical exercise and a penchant for both tobacco and alcohol abuse.”
Cleveland, regarded as the second-heaviest president and the only one to serve a pair of nonconsecutive terms, also covered up a surgery for oral cancer at the beginning of his second presidency.
Somewhat surprisingly, William Henry Harrison, earned a B grade and is considered the 26th healthiest president, despite serving only 32 days in the White House. After delivering the longest inaugural address recorded — one hour and 45 minutes — on a bitterly cold morning of March 4, 1841, the new president immediately took to bed with a bad cold that developed into a fatal case of pneumonia.
“Harrison's premature death is certainly notable and was very severe (he received a large13-point deduction in health score for his pneumonia and subsequent complications), but our rankings took into account other factors such as diet,” according to study organizer Ryan Shevin of TZ Health Media, a division of Tranzact, which funded the report.
Some medical professionals and others may question how it can be fair to compare early presidents to more recent leaders, considering the vast improvements in medicine (as well as the once swampy climes of malarial Washington, D.C.) since the early days of the United States.
Founding father George Washington suffered from a long list of ailments, including malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, boils, tooth loss, hearing loss, infertility, tonsillitis complications, pneumonia, inflammation of the windpipe, throat infection and depression during illnesses.
“The overall quality of medicine/health care has clearly improved over time, but attempting to normalize or adjust for these differences would be a difficult task,” Shevin told VOA, explaining the study “chose a tally of health issues, rather than eliminating historically contextual illnesses such as smallpox.”
Relying on “bits and pieces in the archives” for most presidents “do not and cannot make a complete picture,” said Cordery, who has authored two books about President Theodore Roosevelt (who earns a “D” grade as the 36th healthiest president). “Anything like this where you’re trying to diagnose back in history is partly guesswork.”
The rankings were compiled after emailed answers were received from 27 presidential historians and doctors who were given general questions but not asked to rank the presidents, according to Shevin.
Tranzact researchers then considered a number of leading health indicators, including diet, exercise habits and sleep data, and tallied more than 58 health conditions that ultimately put Hayes on top and Cleveland at the bottom.
While some may regard the rankings as subjective and thus open to argument, there is one common point of agreement among the historians and physicians: Being president of the United States is not good for one’s health.
Robert Watson, a professor of American studies at Lynn University, noted: “It is often said that a president ages at twice the normal rate while in office” due to holding “the most demanding office imaginable.”