President Taft’s Yo-Yo Diet Has Modern Feel, Says Historian

This piece first appeared in The Times of Israel.

This 1930 file photo shows former President and US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft in his judicial robes. (photo credit: AP Photo/Files)

This 1930 file photo shows former President and US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft in his judicial robes. (photo credit: AP Photo/Files)

President William Howard Taft is probably the most high profile American of the early 20th century to get flack for his “corpulence,” but he was far from the only person of that era to be fat shamed. New research by Dr.Deborah Levine, a historian of medicine and science at Providence College, indicates that the massively obese president was in good company with lots of others — including Jewish immigrants.

Her report on Taft’s influence on the contemporary diet industry appears Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Levine, who is currently writing a book on the history of obesity in the United States from 1840 to 1940, has discovered that public concern about obesity is by no means a recent phenomenon. She found evidence that obesity and the American obsession over diet dates back to the mid 19th century, with some earlier evidence even going back as far as the 18th century.

A recent article in the New York Times focused on the discovery by Levine of extensive correspondence between Taft and his diet doctor, and how many of the weight loss methods Taft, the 27th US president (1909-13) was following are very similar to approaches used today.

However, in a conversation with The Times of Israel, Levine, 34, emphasized an interesting aspect of her historical research having to do with immigrants to the US early in the last century.

“By that time, obesity had been treated for several decades already as a medical issue,” Levine noted. “And interestingly, scientists were writing about their concern about the diet habits of immigrants, especially those from southern Europe and the Mediterranean, as well as about Jewish immigrants.”

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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