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The adjustable Lap-Band has been available in the U.S. since 2001 for the most obese patients, and in 2011 the Food and Drug Administration expanded approval to somewhat less obese patients.
Candidates for gastric banding must have a body mass index of between 30 and 40 — plus a weight-related medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure — or a BMI of 40 and higher. They also must have previously attempted to lose weight through diet and exercise.
"If you eat appropriately and chew your food, it works nicely," said Dr. Christina Li, a bariatric doctor at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. She said Christie has the resources to have people help him eat right and get exercise. While the band is removable, she said patients are told to adjust to having it for the rest of their lives.
Li said risks include infection, and that it does not work for all patients.
Dr. Jaime Ponce, who practices in Dalton, Ga., and is president of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, said people who have the procedure Christie had often lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Christie's procedure was performed by Dr. George Fielding, head of NYU Medical Center's Weight Management Program, who did the same procedure for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan three years ago.
"It basically teaches you how to eat like a human," Ryan said of the device in an interview last week with The Associated Press. "The Lap-Band goes: `No, no. You're only going to eat this or that,' and it trains your body how to eat right," said Ryan, who said he has lost 115 pounds from his pre-surgery weight of 348.
Few significantly overweight presidential candidates have succeeded in the modern political era, when television became a major factor in shaping voter attitudes. There are disputed reports that President William Howard Taft couldn't fit in a White House bathtub a century ago, but only a handful of presidents since have been considered obese. President Bill Clinton struggled at times with his weight, but he was substantially slimmer than the New Jersey governor.
"This has nothing to do with politics," said Christie adviser Bill Palatucci. "He said that he's doing this for his family and that's the right reason."
Backers publicly argue that Christie answered any questions about his weight's political impact in 2009, when he beat Gov. Jon Corzine despite the Democrat's reference in an ad to Christie "throwing his weight around" to get out of traffic tickets. Supporters say Christie's openness about his struggle is part of an authenticity people admire in him.
The governor's allies, medical professionals and even history suggest that his weight presents both practical and political problems.
"Gov. Christie's weight is an issue the same way that any candidate or official's health is an issue," said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist and veteran of presidential politics. "Anyone running for president will need to comfort Americans with an overall healthy picture for their future."
Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J., and Peoples from Providence, R.I. AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington, AP writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak in New York contributed to this report.