From George Washington to Donald Trump, there has been a total of 45 American presidents. Many of them ate well, exercised regularly, and implemented initiatives to help the public adopt active lifestyles. However, there has also been a handful of presidents who were unhealthy, whatever their reasoning may be. The following are ten of the unhealthiest presidents in US history. Because health can be quite subjective, this list is based mostly on lifestyle, eating habits, and unfortunate medical conditions.
1. Grover Cleveland
A recent study shows that Grover Cleveland was the unhealthiest of all the American presidents. Nicknamed Uncle Jumbo by his nieces and nephews, he was the second heaviest president weighing in at 250 pounds. He had an undying love for rich food and alcohol. During the 1870s, he made a vow to drink only four glasses of beer per day, but this quickly came to an end when he found it too limiting a commitment. Cleveland also smoked cigars, which later led to carcinoma. And at one point, he suffered from gout on his feet, causing him to limp constantly.
2. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower was plagued by medical issues for much of his later life. When he was elected president, he was already suffering from abdominal adhesions as a result of an appendectomy. In 1955, he had a heart attack. A year later, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and a year after that, he suffered a stroke. Even though he was discouraged from running again, Eisenhower won a second term in office, a period of four years in which he continued to deteriorate rapidly. Ike was only in his sixties, but he looked like a withered old man by the end of it all. His fondness for steak and bourbon did not help his condition.
3. Warren G. Harding
Even before he became the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding had high blood pressure and was showing early signs of diabetes. By 1918, he was over 200 pounds. He chewed tobacco and smoked two cigars a day. His health worsened throughout his presidency, leaving him tired and inflicted with chest plains. In August 1923, he died of a sudden heart attack. Harding is only one of four presidents to die in office from natural causes.
4. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was plagued by maladies for most of his life. As a twelve-year-old messenger boy during the American Revolution, he was thrown in jail where he contracted smallpox. Thirty or so years later, during the War of 1812, he suffered from malarial fevers and dysentery, the latter permanently damaging his digestive tract. These diseases recurred throughout his life. To make matters worse, Jackson was known to duel. One bullet to the arm gave him chronic pain, and a second inoperable bullet to the chest probably led to mercury poisoning.
5. John F. Kennedy
As the youngest president ever elected, John F. Kennedy should have been the picture of health, but nothing is farther from the truth. JFK lived in constant pain. As a child, he suffered from gastrointestinal issues, which were later diagnosed as Addison’s disease. This caused him extreme chronic back pain that was further exacerbated by his World War II service. Throughout his life, he required numerous surgeries. JFK also had trouble sleeping, making him reliant on various sleeping pills. On top of all that, he was a cigar aficionado and smoked constantly. Most of these health concerns were kept secret in order to uphold a false image of vitality and youth.
6. James Madison
James Madison was such a frail teenager, many people mistakenly thought he had contracted any number of the diseases that were common for the times. In 1775, he was commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia during the American Revolution, but never saw actual combat due to his poor health. Frailty continued to define his adult life. He was the smallest of all the US presidents, his weight rarely exceeding a hundred pounds. Madison was constantly exhausted and suffered from depression and seizures. And the rotten cherry on top: he was also a hypochondriac, someone who lives in fear that they have a serious medical illness.
7. James Monroe
James Monroe served as the fifth president of the United States. In 1785, he contracted malaria while visiting the Mississippi River, and would come down with fevers as a result for years to come. In 1825, he suffered a severe seizure that nearly killed him. In 1830, he developed a chronic lung illness—probably pulmonary tuberculosis—that made it hard to breathe and caused him to cough up wads of blood. Monroe died of it on Independence Day 1831.
8. Ronald Reagan
During his presidency, Ronald Reagan had a few health scares. In 1985, he had multiple polyps removed from his colon, one of which was cancerous. Two years later, he had a patch of skin cancer removed from his nose. Following his time in office, Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but many suspect that he suffered from it while he was still president. Unfortunately, he was also a rabid smoker. In order to quit, he gorged himself on large amounts of jellybeans.
9. William Taft
Weighing in at 314 pounds, William Taft was the heaviest president in American history. His doctors never treated him properly, however, because of how little regard there had been at the time for the potential harm of excessive weight. Except for a short period, his eating habits were not great; he would eat a twelve-ounce steak for breakfast every morning. Taft also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. He was always mentally and physically tired, and would often fall asleep in important meetings and if rumors are to be believed, even on the golf course.
10. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson is known as one of the hardest working presidents, but that work ethic is reflected in his poor health. Cary T. Grayson, his personal physician, even expressed concerns over Wilson’s health at the beginning of his presidency. In 1919, he suffered a severe stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. Stubborn and refusing to resign, Wilson worked tirelessly to hide his illness from the American public, while his wife essentially took over the presidential duties behind the scenes. This pressure and stress only worsened his condition.
About the Author
Nathaniel Whelan has an M.A. from Carleton University and a diploma in Professional Writing from Algonquin College. When he is not serving coffee at his local Starbucks, he can be found reading, writing, or buried under a pile of LEGO. He currently lives in Ottawa with his partner and pet cats Goose and Loki.
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