President Trump gets a physical: what you need to know

Presidents choose what medical details to release to the public, just like private citizens
January 12, 2018, 4:23pm

On Friday, President Donald Trump, 71, will undergo his first comprehensive physical examination as commander in chief.

His previous formal checkup was performed in 2015 by Dr. Harold Bornstein, a gastroenterologist and Trump’s personal physician of 38 years. Afterwards, Bornstein released a letter saying Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

Bornstein was not believed to have evaluated any presidential candidates before that.

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Now, Trump’s health is up for the test again, this time by the White House physician, a Navy doctor and rear admiral appointed by President Barack Obama, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson. White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said earlier this week that Dr. Jackson’s report on Trump’s health, issued Tuesday, will be similar to that for Obama and President George W. Bush.

The tradition of releasing the president’s medical condition is a relatively new one, dating back to 1971 and Richard Nixon. But what is actually released to the public is entirely up to the president.

“There is no legal requirement that a president either must subject himself to a physical or provide details of that physical to the public,” said Allan Lichtman, an American political historian who teaches at American University.

Recent presidents have disclosed height, weight, cholesterol levels, immunizations, lab results, or some medications. Almost always, health disclosures by presidential physicians are particularly dry with the occasional interesting factoid. According to Obama’s glowing physical, he had the “occasional nicotine gum” and his levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, which determine chances of developing prostate cancer were strikingly average.

Former President Bush’s physical noted that he had the “occasional cigar” and that he had two colonoscopies during his time as President causing him to invoke the 25th amendment and transfer his presidential powers to Mr. Cheney for two hours in 2002. Bush had also apparently gained some weight, that, his physician claimed, was due to “increased muscle mass.”

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Both presidents ate their vitamins and exercised multiple times a week.

Donald Trump seemingly does not, unless golf counts as exercise. In fact, according to “Let Trump Be Trump,” a book written by two of Trump’s previous top aides, presidential dinner has consisted of “two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted.” The president was photographed on the campaign trail tucking into a Big Mac and KFC. "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff detailed a bedtime cheeseburger habit.

What the exam does not include is an evaluation of the president’s mental health, even for one self-evaluated as a “very stable genius.”

“We have physicians in the White House monitoring the president's physical health, but we do not, as far as I know, never had anyone in the White House monitoring and dealing with the mental health of the president,” Lichtman said.