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Medicine: Fat Lady

2 minute read

Fattest human being ever known to medical science was the late Mrs. Ruth G. Pontico of Tampa, Fla., who was 5 ft. 5¶ in. tall and weighed 772½ lb. This conclusion, the result of a long series of study of the proper anatomical dimensions of mankind, was made by David P. Willoughby, of the vertebrate paleontology department at the California Institute of Technology. Discoverer Willoughby reported his findings in a Johns Hopkins’ periodical, Human Biology.

Since every crossroads carnival has its fat lady, Willoughby was amazed to find fewer than 20 people in all medical historical records who exceeded 700 Ib.*

Mrs. Pontico, who died (aged 38) of heart failure after an operation last fall, was a carnival fat lady. So was her mother, who was 6 ft. tall and weighed 720 lb. (Her father, also a six-footer, weighed only 250 lb.) Like most very fat people, Mrs. Pontico had always been that way. She weighed 16 lb. at birth, 50 lb. a year later.

Relatively nimble, she managed to waddle about her large Tampa estate every few days, to climb stairs once or twice daily. “The surprising thing,” says Willoughby, “is that anyone her size should be able to get about at all, since every movement, considering the weight of the body and limbs, became veritably a feat of strength.” He concludes that her muscles must have been much stronger than the average woman’s.

Surprisingly enough, Mrs. Pontico ate only about 50% more food than an ordinary person—which, in proportion to her size, was only about one-third as much as an average person eats. Obesity on the Pontico scale, says Willoughby, is no longer believed to be due directly to faulty glands, but rather to “those parts of the metabolic apparatus itself which have to do with the stimulation of appetite and the absorption of fat-forming food elements.”

*Heaviest (but not fattest) person on record was Miles Darden. When he died in 1857 in Henderson County, Tenn., he weighed a trifle over 1,000 lb. But Darden was 7½ ft. tall. If he had been of the same proportions as rotund Mrs. Pontico, he would have weighed an even ton.

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