Chris Christie's weight has figured, er, heavily in the news this week.
The New Jersey governor first made news for secretly undergoing weight-loss surgery, a process known as gastric band surgery, back in February. Then, during a Politico event Thursday evening, the potential 2016 presidential contender, answering questions about the once-secret surgery, told audience members that "the only still-acceptable form of discrimination in our country is against people who are overweight."
Christie said over speakerphone (he called in to the Politico event) that he wasn't seeking to be a role model or to make a public or political statement about weight loss in having the surgery: "This was a really intense, personal decision."
But he could end up being a role model nonetheless. He's poised to have more of an impact on the critical issue of obesity this country faces than Michelle Obama or Mike Huckabee or Bill Clinton ever did.
For one, Christie is essentially the only potential presidential candidate we've had whose weight and eating habits have been repeatedly highlighted as an impediment to getting elected. Huckabee lost his weight before he really began getting national attention about running for president. And Clinton's junk food weakness was in some ways seen as an asset, helping the Rhodes scholar connect with everyday Americans and hurting him little more (at least with voters) than a few late-night TV jokes. If Christie is successful—either at losing the weight or running for president—he could help to shatter stereotypes.
Moreover, Christie's decision to be open about his surgery could encourage others battling obesity to take the drastic measures needed to improve their health. As the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes, procedures like Christie's bring with them a host of psychological challenges, such as feeling like it's an "easy way out" to weight loss, even if it's really the only option left. The new "most famous American to discuss his weight loss surgery," as Ambinder calls Christie, could help the surgery to become more accepted and less taboo.
Finally, if the governor continues to talk about the discriminatory aspects of obesity, as he did Thursday, he could open up more dialogue on how we should treat people facing this epidemic problem and how to make change more accessible for the many people who need it. Christie may not want to be a role model. But if his surgery is actually successful at helping him shed pounds (he's already reportedly dropped 40), he could become one of the most credible leaders in the fight against the country's obesity epidemic.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.