I have been a bit put off by the news reports on the results of President Obama’s recent physical. How many of us would want our personal health care details announced to the world at large? Would any rational person care to trumpet their weight or cholesterol counts on the internet, or hear pundits debate whether they should quit smoking on TV or radio “news” programs? Can’t our President at least enjoy some privacy about medical issues? Why do we need to know anything about the President’s health other than, as his doctor stated, that he is “fit and ready for duty”?
The detailed nature of the information that is available appears here. It indicates that the President’s cholesterol and blood pressure have increased. No surprise there; he has a stressful job that no doubt causes him to eat at odd hours, to lose sleep that he would otherwise have enjoyed, and to experience sustained pressure and strain. His weight is remarkably good and he obviously exercises regularly. (I wish I weighed less than 180 pounds, and I bet most American men in the 50 age range share than sentiment.) President Obama evidently sneaks a cigarette now and then, and his doctor also urges him to exercise moderation in consumption of alcohol. So what? Lots of people struggle to quit smoking, and doctors can’t resist the opportunity to lecture virtually every patient about alcohol use.
Some people argue that, given President Obama interest in reducing health care costs, he is hypocritical to smoke because it is a great cause of otherwise avoidable health care costs. I quit smoking almost 20 years ago; I’m glad I did and I imagine that President Obama would feel the same way if he successfully kicked the habit — but that decision is his business, not ours. Franklin Roosevelt smoked, and it didn’t seem to hurt his performance. Indeed, the media’s discretion in not reporting about Roosevelt’s polio-related paralysis and use of braces demonstrates that we really don’t need intimate information about our leaders’ non-life threatening medical conditions. We should respect that medical exam results are intensely personal information that should not be the subject of needless public scrutiny and gossip — even when they concern the President.