Why was Rutherford B. Hayes the healthiest US president of all time?
Long before President Donald Trump swilled a dozen Diet Cokes per day and argued exercise may kill you quicker, men in the Oval Office have been known for their odd health behaviors.
That’s one of the takeaways from a new report on presidential health from the consumer health site MedicareSupplement.com. Based on interviews with 27 historians and doctors, the report revealed William Taft gobbled up 12-ounce steaks for breakfast, Ronald Reagan tried to swap cigarettes for jelly beans, and Grover Cleveland — whose nickname was “Uncle Jumbo” — avoided exercise at all costs.
The analysis also reads like a history of disease trends in the US. Despite access to the best health care in the world, presidents often succumbed to the scourges of their time. George Washington died of pneumonia, James Monroe of tuberculosis, and James Polk of cholera — all infectious diseases that are rarely deadly in the US today.
By contrast, modern presidents die of chronic diseases related to aging: Lyndon B. Johnson died from heart failure, Richard Nixon from a stroke, and Ronald Regan from Alzheimer’s disease.
Obama ranks 2nd; Trump ranks 26th
The report ranked the president’s from healthiest to least healthy on a 100-point scale, awarding 1-5 ratings for their medical histories, diets, exercise, tobacco and alcohol use, and sleep habits.
Coming in first was Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president who held office from 1877 to 1881. Hayes, according to the report, had very healthy behaviors. He lived in the White House at a time when smoking, alcohol — and even profanity — were outlawed. “While most other presidents suffered from several serious ailments, Hayes’ only recorded health issues were the heart attack that killed him and a bout of poison ivy,” the report states.
Like Hayes, President Obama, who came in second, also had an outstandingly clean bill of health. “Other than having measles as a child and having a run-in with a barbed wire fence that left him with 20 stitches in his arm, Obama has so far escaped any serious health scares.” He’s an on-again, off-again smoker — though he also follows a very healthy diet and exercise regimen, which has helped him fare much better than other men his age.
Trump, meanwhile, ranked 26 on the list — after Abraham Lincoln and both President Bushes — mainly because he’s borderline obese and has elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Last on the list was Grover Cleveland. His health ailments included obesity, a leg laceration, typhoid fever, jaw cancer, hearing loss, kidney inflammation, gout, and a heart attack. “He was a heavy drinker, smoker and overeater. He likely had sleep apnea, which would have interfered with his sleep, and he admitted that he ‘detested exercise’,” according to the report.
Of course, the ranking was based on publicly available information — and presidents are famous for hiding details about their health.
“For recent presidents, especially those still living, there is always the possibility, a rather strong one, that we will discover additional information that is presently known to physicians and presidents but not to the general public,” said Jacob Appel, an assistant professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine who studies the health histories of candidates. “Almost all of the modern presidents would have been rated higher and looked healthier on paper while in office than they do in retrospect with the benefit of information not released during their terms.”
Here are some other nuggets from the report
- Franklin D. Roosevelt swam three times per week despite his injuries from polio.
- John F. Kennedy used sleeping pills and liked to nap during the day.
- Willian Taft often downed a 12 oz. steak for breakfast.
- Abraham Lincoln is a star member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame: He is believed to have only lost one in about 300 matches.
- Ronald Regan binged on jelly beans in an effort to quit smoking.
- Calvin Coolidge was a picky eater and subsisted mostly on roast beef, Vermont pickles, and corn muffins.
Read the full report here.