Trump Turns 71 This Week. How Healthy Is He?
The oldest president to ever assume office is known for bad habits, but is probably healthier than people think
President Donald Trump’s young administration has been plagued by scandals, allegations, and investigations into his staffers, leading many of his opponents to hope — perhaps prematurely — that his term will be cut short by impeachment. But, on the eve of the president’s birthday, there is a less-discussed factor that could affect the length of his term: his health. On Wednesday, the oldest president ever sworn into office will turn 71.
Trump’s often-photographed greasy spoon meals, his strange dismissal of exercise as something that drains the body’s supply of “finite” energy, and the bouts of exhaustion that staffers cited on his first overseas trip have all fueled questions about the president’s health.
Earlier in June, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointedly said she was concerned about his health and that Trump’s family should tell him to get more sleep — a jab at his tendency to send off tweets at all hours, but also a reference to what people assume is Trump’s meager sleeping routine. Others have asked whether Trump’s at-times incoherent and rambling speeches are an indication of something more deeply wrong.
Popular opinion is that the stress of being president ages the job’s holder faster. Plenty have pointed out the stark difference between the youthful, black-haired Barack Obama of 2008 and the weary, wrinkled, and fully grey Obama that emerged from the White House eight years later.
Scientists, however, have studied the question and found that presidents actually tend to outlive the rest of us, barring the occasional assassination.
“That shouldn’t be surprising because presidents come from the upper strata of socioeconomic status — they’re wealthy, educated — so they should live longer,” Anupam Jena, a health economist and physician at Harvard Medical School, told Vocativ. Trump, of course, is a billionaire born in the lap of luxury.
Jena and his team published a study of their own in 2015, hoping to better isolate the potential health impacts of being commander-in-chief. They compared over 200 world leaders, from more than 15 countries across two centuries, to the most equivalent group they could find — the runner-ups they had beaten in their respective elections.
“What we found was that those who were elected to be world leader lived on average 2.5 years less than those who lost the election,” Jena said.
“In addition to the pure stress of being a world leader,” Jena offered as an explanation for why being the head of state could be life-draining, “there are probably reductions in exercise, sleep, along with other unhealthy behaviors involving food.” While the team didn’t specifically look at the role an older age could play, Jena added that “you’d expect those effects to be larger in magnitude the older someone is when elected.”
Trump has remained somewhat secretive about his health. He never released detailed medical records while on the campaign trail, unlike his opponent and most recent presidential candidates. A much-derided letter issued by his personal physician last year claimed that a recent medical examination of Trump “showed only positive results.” But it also stated that he was overweight and taking a cholesterol lowering drug — and it’s clear his lifestyle habits, with his professed dislike of fruits and vegetables and love of fast food and well-done red steak (with ketchup, no less), aren’t ideal.
In May, a CNN report quoting anonymous sources within Trump’s inner circle claimed that he has only become more isolated and put on weight since taking office.
Others have speculated about Trump’s cognitive state. Last May, STAT recruited psychiatrists and linguists to examine speeches and interviews Trump has made throughout his life. The experts, even those who supported Trump, all agreed: Trump’s manner of speaking has become much less articulate, stilted, and simpler. Most speculated these changes could reflect a cognitive decline.
A 2015 study, which seemingly served as the inspiration for STAT’s survey, suggested that changes in speech could be used to track the deterioration of President Ronald Reagan’s cognition over his eight-year term, long before before his formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.
But whether Trump’s strange verbosity is just an indication of the normal slowing down we all deal with as we age or the early stages of dementia, no expert was willing to wager a guess.
For that matter, when it comes to Trump’s overall health and presumed life clock, neither would Jena. “I won’t comment on the mortality prospects of a sitting or former president,” Jena, a registered Democrat, said (and anyway, this kind of “from a distance” diagnosis is generally considered unethical in many health professions.)
“But for someone who fit that description,” he added, “I’m sure most physicians would seek to counsel them on improving dietary habits, improving exercise, and getting more sleep.”
To Trump’s credit, he doesn’t smoke nor drink, two of the largest health risks, and his father lived to the age of 93. And for all the clamors of hypocrisy he’s earned from liberals for golfing nearly every weekend (something he often criticized his predecessor for), Jena notes that golfing’s a pretty decent way to stay on top of your exercise needs.
“I would imagine that Trump is more active than the typical 70-year-old,” he said. “I mean, being president’s a hard job — lot of activity goes into that.”