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White House Physician Says Trump Is In 'Excellent Health'


President Trump is in excellent health. That's the word from the White House physician who examined him last week and went before the media to answer questions today. He says Trump aced a cognitive exam that the president himself requested. On the other hand, the doctor said Trump is so overweight that he is nearly obese and needs to start exercising daily.

Joining us with more is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris. Hey, Richard.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with the president's mental abilities because those have been questioned lately by some of his critics. What did the exam show on that score?

HARRIS: Well, the White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, said he chose to test the president with a test called MoCA, which takes - took about 30 minutes in this case, can sometimes take a little bit less time. It checks our retention, memory recall and other signs of cognitive function. Now, it's not a mental health exam. It does not look for anxiety, depression or other kinds of mental illness, but it is a very common screening tool for cognitive testing. And Dr. Jackson said Mr. Trump asked for it to settle some of the questions that have been swirling around about his mental status. And it turns out he scored a 30 out of 30. Jackson went on to say that he sees the president almost every day, and he has seen nothing of concern related to his general mental condition.


RONNY JACKSON: Just my day-to-day interactions with the president - you know, the president is mentally very, very, very sharp, very intact.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And do you believe he is fit for duty?

JACKSON: Absolutely. He's fit for duty. I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.

HARRIS: Now, Dr. Jackson did back away a little bit from that entire number because of course nobody can say what the health of a 71-year-old is going to be for that length of time. But he said all the indications are good.

SHAPIRO: And is Dr. Jackson the president's personal physician or a government employee?

HARRIS: He is a federal employee, and he's worked at the White House since 2006. So he had seen George W. Bush, and he was the presidential physician for Barack Obama. So he's more impartial than the previous doctor who examined Dr. (ph) Trump. And his personal doctor said - before the election he said, I quote, "if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." This doctor clearly didn't go that far and wouldn't comment on that. But clearly these numbers also are strong numbers for...

SHAPIRO: Well, what else did we learn today about the president's health?

HARRIS: Well, Dr. Jackson ran down a list of medical tests, mostly quite good. There's no sign of diabetes, for example. The cholesterol is under reasonable control because he's taking a low dose of a statin drug. He doesn't drink or smoke, and that helps a lot. And his heart's in good shape with the exception of some calcium buildup that's in the mild to moderate range. His weight, as you mentioned, is an issue. He's almost obese. And so that was the major concern out of this from the doctor.

SHAPIRO: Explain why somebody who eats as much red meat as the president is known to eat, is as fond of desserts and Diet Cokes as he is known to be, is in such good health.

HARRIS: Hamburgers and two scoops of ice cream, yeah.


HARRIS: Well, that question came up, and Dr. Jackson suggested this answer.


JACKSON: Some people have, you know, just great genes. You know, I told the president that if he had a healthier over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know.

HARRIS: That said, the doctor is trying to convince the president to improve his diet and to start a daily exercise regime. When he's in the White House, he's being fed by the White House chefs, who do a good job giving him nutritious food. The doctor said when they're traveling, I think, that's when the hamburgers and chicken wings and so on come out. But the diet is more or less under control. The main concern, though, is getting an exercise regime. The doctor said Trump right now has no exercise regime. So the good news is it shouldn't be difficult to improve upon that.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Richard Harris, thanks a lot.

HARRIS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 16, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
We say President Trump's cognitive test took 30 minutes to complete. In fact, the White House physician did not say how long the test lasted. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment typically takes about 10 minutes.
Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.
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