Following the recent news that the world’s – now former! – heaviest person alive has lost an incredible 291 kg (641 lb or 45 st – the equivalent of 40 large bowling balls!), we take a look back at the story of the heaviest humans on Earth. It’s a tale that is by turns turbulent, tragic and even uplifting.
The heaviest human category is not one that’s challenged very often. Few individuals wish to publicize their extreme obesity, although occasionally a new story breaks when someone seeks help for what is a very serious medical condition. Record holders face a constant struggle, not only with their extreme size and fluctuating waistlines, but also the life-threatening health issues that accompany them.
This is the case with the most recent man to be verified as the world’s Heaviest human: Juan Pedro Franco Salas of the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes.
In November 2016, Franco made headlines around the world when he was hospitalized for life-saving treatment. Initially reported to weigh 1,105 lb (501 kg; 79 st), he actually tipped the scales at 594.8 kg (1,311 lb 4.9 oz; 93 st 9 lb) – the weight of nearly 10 average adult men.
He had suffered from morbid obesity since childhood, his condition exacerbated by an injury he sustained aged 17. "My body just followed its own path without any control whatsoever," he said of his spiralling weight gain. "I tried to diet day after day, but nothing worked and I became desperate."
An accomplished guitar player, Juan Pedro enjoyed performing traditional Mexican ballads. "He was a good cumbia dancer," said his mother, María de Jesús Salas, "and had two or three girlfriends." But he soon became incapacitated by his weight, and became a prisoner in his own home.
Two years ago the 32-year-old left his bedroom for the first time in seven years to undergo life-saving treatment in hospital. He was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, hypertension and liquid in his lungs. By May 2017, Franco had lost 170 kg (374 lb; 26 st 10 lb) – roughly the weight of two kangaroos – and was able to have gastric bypass surgery.
Following his gastric bypass surgery, he embarked upon a new dietary and exercise regime which saw him lose a third of his body weight by the time he appeared in the pages of Guinness World Records 2019. Aided by a team of 30 health professionals, he continued to reduce his weight still further – reaching 304 kg as of November this year.
“Quiero que la gente haga conciencia. Estoy muy contento quiero aprovechar para que estén al pendiente de un proyecto informativo de prevención que se llama Cuánto pesas, que iniciará el próximo año”, Juan Pedro Franco con @PaolaRojas@NTelevisa_compic.twitter.com/s0hT3kwEPC— Dr. José Castañeda (@DrJoseCastaneda) November 29, 2018
Prior to Franco, the heaviest man in the world was fellow Mexican Manuel "Meme" Uribe Garza of Monterrey, who reached a peak weight of 560 kg (1,235 lb; 88 st) – heavier than six average men – in January 2006.
He made a televised plea for help and slimmed down to 840 lb (381 kg; 60 st) with the guidance of obesity experts. Manuel was hospitalized in May 2014 suffering from cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and liver failure, and passed away three weeks later at the age of 48.
Other heaviest men of recent times include Michael Hebranko (US, 1953–2013), who suffered from morbid obesity his entire life and whose weight peaked at 1,100 lb (499 kg; 78 st) in 1999. The wall of Michael's home had to be removed in order to get him to hospital and a whale sling used to manoeuvre him into bed.
T J Albert Jackson (US, 1941–88), meanwhile, peaked at 890 lb (404 kg; 63 st 9 lb). "Fat Albert", as he was known, had a chest measurement of 305 cm (120 in), a waist of 294 cm (116 in) and a 75‑cm (29‑in) neck.
Weighing in at 946 lb (429 kg; 67 st 8 lb), Robert Earl Hughes (US, 1926–58) of Fish Hook, Illinois, was the first living man to be listed in the original Guinness Book of Records for his weight. In our first edition in 1955, we noted that: "He was an 11 lb baby and weighed 27 stone at the age of 10." We went on to say that he "also possesses the greatest record girth at 109 inches (9 ft 1 in)".
He went on beat his own "girth" record, retitled to Largest chest measurement, peaking at 3.15 m (10 ft 4 in) – a record that still stands to this day.
The Heaviest man ever was Jon Brower Minnoch (US), who had suffered from obesity since childhood. In September 1976, he measured 185 cm (6 ft 1 in) tall and weighed 442 kg (974 lb; 69 st 9 lb).
But just two years later, in March 1978, Jon was admitted to University Hospital, Seattle, US, where consultant endocrinologist Dr Robert Schwartz calculated that he must have weighed in excess of 1,400 lb (635 kg; 100 st).
A great deal of this was due to water accumulation – a result of his congestive heart failure. In order to get Jon to hospital, a dozen firemen and an improvised stretcher were required to move him from his home to a ferry boat. When he arrived at University Hospital, saturated with fluid and suffering from heart and respiratory failure, Jon was put in two beds lashed together. It took 13 people to roll him over.
After nearly two years on a diet of 1,200 calories per day, Jon was discharged at 216 kg (476 lb; 34 st). In Oct 1981, however, he had to be readmitted after putting on more than 89 kg (196 lb; 14 st). When he passed away on 10 September 1983, the heaviest person ever weighed more than 362 kg (798 lb; 57 st).
For successful slimmers such as Franco, the future is now longer and healthier. "Before I took around six to 10 steps and then I had to sit down," he is quoted as saying. "Now I can walk more than 100 steps, even 10 laps of 40 steps. It’s a breakthrough… I’ve lost my body weight."
For Guinness World Records, the category of heaviest man now has a vacancy, and the job begins once more to find a new contender willing to share his medical information with the world… a contender who will hopefully see this as the first step towards reducing his weight.
Other heaviest humans
Heaviest living woman: Pauline Potter (US) weighed 293.6 kg (647 lb; 46 st) when measured in Sacramento, California, US, in Jul 2012. She attributes her weight problems to her childhood, when she regularly had to go without food. Following gastric bypass surgery, Pauline shed almost 150 lb (68 kg; 10 st), but continues to battle with her weight.
Heaviest woman to give birth: Donna Simpson of New Jersey, US, weighed 532 lb (241 kg; 38 st) when she delivered daughter Jacqueline in Feb 2007. The birth took place at Akron City Hospital in Ohio, US, carried out by a team of 30 medical professionals. Jacqueline weighed 8 lb 7 oz (3.8 kg) at birth – around 1/60th of her mother’s weight.
Heaviest woman ever: Rosalie Bradford (US) is claimed to have reached a peak weight of 1,200 lb (544 kg; 85 st) in Jan 1987. In Aug that year, she was rushed to hospital having developed congestive heart failure. Through a combination of carefully controlled dieting and exercise – including clapping her hands – Rosalie was able to bring her weight down to 283 lb (128 kg; 20 st) by Feb 1994. She went back to higher education and toured America, making motivational speeches at weight-loss seminars. Despite her success in controlling her size, however, it continued to be a problem throughout Rosalie’s life. She finally passed away on 29 Nov 2006 at the age of 63, owing to weight related complications.
Heaviest sportswoman: Sumo wrestler Sharran Alexander (UK) weighed 448 lb (203.2 kg; 32 st) on 15 Dec 2011. She took up the sport in her early 40s, participating in the Sumo World Championships having won a 2006 reality TV show. Sharran went on to compete in competitions around the world, winning four gold medals and attaining second Kyū grade.