America's Unhealthiest Presidents

This President's Day, check out some of our past presidents who make the list for 'unhealthiest' U.S. leaders 



    Our country's first president, George Washington, served from 1789 to 1797. Among other maladies, Washington suffered malaria attacks several times in his life, starting at the age of 17; had a case of smallpox and dysentery.  He reportedly had a tendency toward depression.  In 1779, Washington developed an abscess of the tonsils, which made him "fear for his survival." By middle age, he did not have any of his own teeth left, and he suffered from hearing loss.   Washington, who estimated to be more than 6-feet, 3-inches tall, was married to his wife, Martha, for more than 40 years. Since Martha had four children from her first marriage, and the two never had any of their own, it is assumed the president was infertile. 

    James Monroe

    James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, served from 1817 to 1825. In 1776, during the Battle of Trenton, a bullet grazed the left side of Monroe's chest, hitting his shoulder and injuring the axillary artery. Monroe lost a lot of blood, but a doctor stepped in and saved his life by putting his index finger into the wound to stop the bleeding. Surgeons could not find the bullet, so Monroe lived with the bullet for the rest of his life. In 1785, Monroe was visiting the Mississippi River and contracted malaria for the first time. He had several flare-ups of the disease throughout his lifetime. Monroe ran for president in 1816 and took office the next year. In August 1825, Monroe suffered from a seizure so severe many thought he would die.
    In 1830, he developed chronic lung illness, possibly tuberculosis. He died on July 4, 1831.

    William Henry Harrison

    William Henry Harrison was the 9th president. He served the shortest term of any president and became the first to die in office. Harrison could only eat certain foods, like milk and cheese products, as he had an ulcer and dairy products seemed to relieve his pain. As a result of his restricted diet, Harrison's tall frame was gaunt. On a cold, wet and blustery day in March 1841, Harrison delivered a 2-hour inauguration speech. He caught a cold and never fully recovered, probably because of the lack of heat inside of the White House at the time. The cold turned into pneumonia and liver congestion and he died on March 27, at the age of 68, after serving just 30 days as president.

    Franklin Pierce

    Franklin Pierce, the country's 14th president, may have been handsome and wealthy, but he also suffered from depression and alcoholism throughout his adult life. He married Jane Appleton in 1834 and the couple had three children, all of whom died at very young ages. Pierce turned to alcohol to deal with his grief. He became president in 1853 and frustrated those around him with his lack of concentration and ability to focus. He served just one term since his party did not endorse him for re-election. Alcoholism eventually led to his demise. Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1869 at age 64.

    James Garfield

    James Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving only 6 1/2 months during 1881. As a teenager, Garfield suffered several colds and possibly a malaria-like condition. As an adult, Garfield developed a painful anal fissure, which kept him in bed for many weeks. He was operated on for the ailment in 1875. He also suffered with a "weak stomach" for many years prior to being elected president.
    In July 1881, Leon F. Guiteau shot Garfield twice. One bullet left him with an arm injury, the other with a spine injury and fractured rib. He suffered blood poisoning and pneumonia during this time. He died 80 days after being shot of either a massive heart attack or splenic artery aneurysm.

    Theodore Roosevelt

    Theodore Roosevelt was the 25th president. As a child, he suffered from asthma. He became president in 1901, six months after becoming the nation's vice president. It was the assassination of William McKinley that propelled Roosevelt into the presidency at the age of 42. He was re-elected in 1904, serving until 1909. In 1912, he ran for president again and was shot in the chest during a campaign stop in Milwaukee. Despite the bullet wound, Roosevelt delivered a 90-minute speech before heading to the hospital. Doctors found the bullet lodged in his chest muscle. Roosevelt decided against surgery, living out the remainder of his life with the bullet in his chest. Roosevelt contracted malaria and a staph infection in his leg at age 54 during an Amazonian safari in 1913. He survived a 103-degree temperature and a 54-pound weight loss. He died at age 60 in his sleep of a coronary embolism.


    William Howard Taft, the nation's 27th country, was extremely unhealthy. As a young child, Taft wrote about having a skull fracture and typhoid fever. However, it was his weight that got the most attention. At more than 5-feet, 11-inches tall, Taft weighed about 243 pounds when he graduated college, but by the age of 48 he was about 320 pounds. 

    An English physician helped Taft to lose about 70 pounds, but he regained it and then some by the time he left the White House. He was about 340 pounds at his heaviest, and his weight contributed to a plethora of other health problems, such as sleep apnea, acid reflux, gout and high blood pressure. 

    Woodrow Wilson

    Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president, elected in 1912 and again in 1916. Wilson suffered a seizure at age 40 in 1896, which lead to weakness in his right arm and sensory disturbances in his fingers. He was unable to write for almost a year. He continued to suffer periods of weakness on his right side from 1906 to 1913. The episodes were usually accompanied by severe headaches that would last several days. It is now believed that Wilson actually suffered several small strokes. By 1919, he had almost constant headaches, as well as heart and vision problems. He suffered a massive stroke in 1919 after a speaking engagement in Colorado, which confined him to a wheelchair for several months and left him permanently blind in his left eye. Wilson left office in 1921 and lived another 3 years before he died at home on Feb. 3, 1924.

    Warren G. Harding

    Warren Harding was the 29th president and served for only two years before dying. As a child, he suffered from the mumps. Between 1889 and 1901, he visited a sanitarium in Michigan five times to recover from fatigue and "nervous illness." In 1901, he had surgery on one of his ears. As a U.S. senator, physicians treated him for nasal allergies and dermatitis. He chewed tobacco and smoked two cigars every day. He became president in 1921. At this time, he was overweight, may have had heart disease and become winded whenever he played golf. In 1923, Harding contracted stomach flu. Later that summer, he was playing golf in Canada when he complained to his doctor of nausea and stomach pain. His doctor concluded he had heart problems, possibly angina and needed cardiac therapy.  Harding died several days later in San Francisco at the age of 57. There was no autopsy, but it is thought that he had a heart attack.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the U.S., was the only president to be elected to four terms in the nation's history. Roosevelt served as president from 1933 to 1945. FDR contracted polio in 1921 and was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, but his disability was carefully hidden from the press and the public. Roosevelt's health began to decline in 1940, right after he was elected to his third term. He was losing weight and suffering shortness of breath, which his doctor diagnosed as bronchitis. In 1944, he was diagnosed with hypertension, heart disease, left ventricular cardiac failure and bronchitis. In March 1945, while working at his desk, the former president complained of a horrible pain and died at 3:35 p.m. of a stroke. He was 63 years old.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the U.S., elected in 1952 at the age of 62. Prior to becoming president, he had an appendectomy. The operation left him with the tendency to develop painful lesions between the lining of the abdominal cavity. Eisenhower was a heavy smoker, smoking up to four packs a day. During his presidency, he was advised by doctors to quit smoking and to everyone's amazement, did so cold turkey. Eisenhower had a heart attack in 1955 and was told to keep his weight down and not to run for re-election, but did so anyway. Six months before being re-elected to the presidency, Eisenhower developed Crohn’s disease and had surgery in May, 1956. A year later, he had a stroke. After serving out his second term, Eisenhower suffered 16 gallstones and had his gallbladder removed. He is believed to have suffered at least four heart attacks before dying at age 78 in 1969.

    John F. Kennedy

    John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States. To the men and women of America, he appeared to be the epitome of good health. Young and handsome, strapping and athletic, Kennedy gave little indication he had been sickly from a very young age. Kennedy's health problems began was he was just 2 years old and contracted the measles. Immediately after, he came down with a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever. He also suffered from whooping cough, diphtheria, and other respiratory infections as a child. Before finishing college, Kennedy suffered colitis, appendicitis, Addison's disease, jaundice, severe back problems and early onset osteoporosis. By the mid-1950s his back problems became so severe, he could barely walk and often used crutches in private. By the time he became president in 1961, he was in constant pain and needed daily injections of pain killers, including Demerol, just to function. He was assassinated in 1963.

    Lyndon B. Johnson

    Lyndon B. Johnson was our 36th President from 1963 – 1969. In 1965, over the Labor Day weekend, Johnson suffered a gallbladder attack. Surgery was recommended, and although Johnson did not want to inform the public about the operation, he ultimately decided on a policy of full disclosure regarding his condition after consulting with former President Eisenhower. The surgery lasted two hours and involved the removal of his gallbladder and a kidney stone. Following the operation, Johnson even went as far as to show reporters his scar to illustrate where surgeons had “messed around” in his abdomen. A few years after leaving office, Johnson died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973.

    Ronald Reagan

    Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the U.S. As a young man, Reagan was very active in sports, especially football. A one-time B-movie actor, Reagan became the oldest man elected president in 1981. His first major health problem was in March 1981 when a would-be assassin shot at him and the bullet missed his heart by less than one inch, piercing his lung instead, causing it to collapse. In July 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon. Later that summer, he had cancerous cells removed from his nose. In 1987, Reagan underwent a minor surgery for an enlarged prostate and again had skin cancer removed from his nose. Early in Reagan's presidency, he started wearing a hearing aid. In 1989, he suffered a head injury when he was thrown from a horse. Reagan announced he had Alzheimer's disease in 1994 at the age of 83. He died on June 5, 2004 at the age of 93.

    Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton was the nation's 42nd president, serving from 1993 to 2001. As a boy, Clinton suffered from acid reflux and was forced to eliminate certain foods from his diet and take antacids regularly. As early as 1992, doctors were worried about Clinton's heart health because of high cholesterol levels. In a 2001 press conference, Clinton announced he was taking Zocor to lower his cholesterol. Standing at 6-feet, 2-inches tall, Clinton's weight varied between 214 and 236 pounds during his time in office, giving him a body mass index of 29.1, which is considered overweight. In 2004, Clinton was evaluated at New York Presbyterian Hospital for chest pain and shortness of breath. Doctors determined he needed an urgent quadruple bypass, and that his coronary arteries were over 90 percent blocked.  In February 2010, Clinton had two mesh stents inserted to prop open a clogged coronary artery after being hospitalized with chest pains. He made a full recovery.
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