Big is Better? Weighty Leaders

Cyril Smith. A large man

Hugh Paxton has posed the question. Is size [or rather weight] in a politician important? I have decided to take up the challenge and have tried to explore this perplexing question… 

If height is associated with power in the West, then weight is often associated with leadership in developing countries. Who, other than a powerful person in a poor country could be fat? I am reminded of a passage in the South Sea island memoir A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble [a favourite read of both Hugh and myself] where he is berated by Gilbert and Ellis islanders for being thin. He was the British colonial administrator and by definition, the most powerful man in the region. It was an embarrassment to the whole community that he had a twig-like build. Leaders had to be fleshy and he just wasn’t…  

Arthur Grimble

 African leaders in particular have seen the need to appear larger than life, as many of them undoubtedly were and are. President Idi Amin, the one-time heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda for example weighed over 400lbs  [28stone 8pounds] towards the end of his life according to an article by John Shaplin . 

, the five-times married president of South Africa weighs a mere 21 stone comparison. President Zuma at his recent wedding ceremony”]European and American politicians have not been left behind however and have given these guys a run for their money… 

Ex-Vice President and unlikely eco-warrior Al Gore is comparatively tiny at 180lbs

Tiny Al Gore

… and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie weighs in at 200lbs

Chris Christie


but he big daddy of them all was the recently deceased British member of parliament Sir Cyril Smith who was rumoured to weigh 29 stone or 406lbs. 

Sir Cyril Smith in his prime as Mayor of Rochdale in 1966

Being a big man does however come with a few problems. You could end up the laughing-stock of your country. Check the link to a clip of the Chairman of the South African Finance and Portfolio Committee Mr. N. Nene. 

If you want to remain in office you may feel moved to shed a few pounds.

Mike Huckerbee, the former Governor of Arkansas and one time Whitehouse hopeful dropped 120lbs but the effort still didn’t make him sufficiently appealing to the electorate. 

Before and after shots of Mike Huckerbee during the 2008 campaign

 Given that something like 65% of Americans [and 50% of Brits] are overweight of whom something like 31% are clinically obese, you would think that people would be more likely to vote for someone who has a body shape similar and you may not be wrong. Statistics on obesity amongst politicians is pretty difficult to come by but I did come across the following at:

School of Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Kensington.


The health of 75 NSW State Government members of parliament and 192 senior public servants who have undergone routine health check-ups over the last seven years was assessed. It was found that 67% of members of parliament and 57% of senior public servants were overweight. Many overweight participants thought that their diets were average, their exercise and fitness adequate and that they were only a little overweight. Most thought their excess weight was not harmful. However, excess weight was found to be associated with other physiological variables including increased blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, triglyceride and urate levels.

PMID: 3501059 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

That is not exactly conclusive evidence but it does suggest that as we progress through the 21st Century, the Big Men of politics may be on the increase…

Presidential candidates for 2012



About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Big is Better? Weighty Leaders

  1. Hugh Paxton says:

    Fatastic post! You’ve done it again, Mr H.

    I believe Cyril Smith, known for throwing his weight around, actually stomach butted a journalist (or protestor?) with his pendulous belly sending the scawny runt flying.

    Hugh, Midori and Annabel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s