Chris Christie secretly underwent weight-loss surgery earlier this year, the New Jersey governor said Tuesday.
Christie (R) initially disclosed that he underwent the surgery, known as gastric band surgery, in an interview published Tuesday by the New York Post.
He said at press conference Tuesday afternoon that the procedure was relatively easy and that he maintained an active schedule afterward, despite some soreness. He said he did not want to become a role model for overweight people and emphasized the personal nature of his struggle with obesity.
"I do not see myself nor do I care to be a role model in this regard for anyone; this is an intensely personal issue," he said. "No matter what happens with me … the fact of the matter is everyone has to make these decisions for themselves."
Christie aides confirm he had the procedure done Feb. 16. They will not say whether he has lost weight or, if so, how much.
In gastric band surgery -- also known as lap band surgery -- a band is placed around the stomach to reduce the amount of food one can eat and make the patient feel full with less food. The band can be adjusted.
Political candidates often lose weight in preparation for big political campaigns. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), for example, famously lost more than 100 pounds before running for president and wrote a book about healthy living.
But Christie told the New York Post that the move was not motivated by any designs on running for the White House in 2016.
“I know it sounds crazy to say that running for president is minor, but in the grand scheme of things, it was looking at Mary Pat and the kids and going, ‘I have to do this for them, even if I don’t give a crap about myself,’” he said.
Christie's weight has been an ongoing theme of his political career, and he has dealt with it in his characteristically brusque manner.
Shortly before undergoing the surgery, Christie poked fun at his weight during an appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman." As Letterman talked, Christie produced a doughnut and took a bite while expressing frustration with how long the interview was taking.
"I'm basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life," he said then.
The gag earned a rebuke from a former White House doctor, whom Christie later told to "shut up."
Gastric band surgery is the least invasive but also least successful form of weight-loss surgery, versus other procedures like gastric bypass surgery.
In gastric band surgery, an adjustable silicone band filled with saline is tied around the upper half of the stomach, reducing room for food. But food still can pass to the lower half of the stomach and on to the intestines normally. The surgery is typically done laparoscopically, through small incisions in the abdomen.
Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, said about 160,000 weight-loss surgeries were performed in 2010 -- about half of them gastric bypasses. The other half were divided about evenly between the other two kinds: sleeve gastrectomies and gastric band procedures.
But the popularity of the band is declining rapidly, he said. Janey Sue Pratt, director of the Weight Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said her facility did just one gastric band procedure in 300 surgeries in 2012 and has performed just two so far this year.
Ponce said the gastric band option “is a very effective surgery, but it does require a lot of maintenance and a lot of accountability” from patients, who must diligently follow a diet and exercise regimen.
The risk of “major complications” for the adjustable gastric band procedure is less than 1 percent, according to the association. Complications include the band eroding through the stomach, gastritis, injury to the stomach and intestines during the procedure, poor nutrition and scarring inside the abdomen.
In 2009, the Post profiled a boy who had the surgery.
Weight-loss surgery in general is considered quite effective in addressing a number of obesity-related problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, and may improve life expectancy by 89 percent, according to the association’s Web site.
Pratt said weight-loss surgery is “the most effective way to treat severe obesity, and it is the only sustainable treatment that leads to sustained long-term weight loss.”
For the morbidly obese, people with a body mass index of 35 or more, diet and exercise are effective only about 5 percent of the time, said Andrew Duffy, director of bariatric and metabolic surgery for the Yale-New Haven Health System. Obesity surgery has an 80 to 85 percent long-term success rate, he said.
“These patients do extremely well,” Duffy said. “It is definitely life altering, and potentially life-saving.”
The other two weight-loss surgeries alter the size of the stomach and trigger hormonal changes that help the patient reduce food intake without slowing metabolism. One year weight loss for the gastric band averages seven BMI points or about 50 pounds, in contrast to 15 BMI points and 120 pounds for a gastric bypass and 12 BMI points or 100 pounds for a sleeve gastrectomy, Pratt said.
About a third of the people who choose the band are successful in meeting their weight loss goals, she said, while about two-thirds don’t lose enough to justify the procedure. About 80 percent of patients who choose weight loss surgery are women, she said.
Christie's weight was the subject of significant debate when he briefly entertained the idea of running for president in late 2011. It also came up in his first campaign in 2009, when then-Gov. Jon Corzine (D) ran an ad featuring unflattering video of Christie and saying he "threw his weight around" to get out of traffic violations.
The popular Christie is seeking reelection this year and is considered a strong favorite.
He said the surgery won't change who he is and won't lead him to become some kind of book-writing health guru.
"I know how hard this is, and I’m not going to talk down to people who are going through this like I am," he said. "All I want to be is a role model for my children."
This post was updated at 4:51 p.m.