Heaviest U.S. President Used Modern Diet Methods

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The 27th U.S. President William Howard Taft was one of many struggling with obesity back in the early 1900s, about 50 years after food began to be more widely accessible. Letters with his doctor document the modern-day approaches he took towards getting fit.


With the proliferation of drive-throughs and full store aisles, obesity is frequently thought of as a modern-day problem. However, medical historian Deborah Levine found that the 27th U.S. President William Howard Taft was one of many struggling with obesity back in the early 1900s, about 50 years after food began to be more widely accessible. Letters with his doctor document the modern-day approaches he took towards getting fit.

The heaviest U.S. president, Taft was 6 feet 2 inches tall and fluctuated back and forth from about 255 to 350 pounds. From first contacting Dr. Nathaniel E. Yorke-Davies in 1905 at 314 pounds to his death in 1930 at 280 pounds, Taft tried to get his weight and resulting health problems such as heartburn and sleep apnea under control.

The letters discussed daily food diaries, weigh-ins, and exercise logs. A popular British weight loss expert and author at the time, Dr. Yorke-Davies advised a diet low in calories, fat, and sugars, and high in lean protein and vegetables.

Even though Taft had limited success due to various factors, the letters show “the fundamental tenets of changing behavior” in that to achieve long-term progress, and hopefully success, you must make yourself accountable.

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