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As we get fatter, products get bigger

More Americans are overweight than ever before, and manufacturers are upsizing products to accommodate our growing girth.

By Karen Datko May 15, 2012 8:23PM

Fat driver: Image: Smoking and driving (© Digital Vision/Getty Images)With all due respect, we're a nation of fatties. Thirty-six percent of Americans were obese in 2010 and a new projection says that will balloon to 42% in 2030 if we keep stuffing our faces the way we do.


The percentage of people who are 100 or more pounds overweight is expected to nearly double to 11%.


U.S. businesses are adapting. We're not just talking about companies that specialize in selling seat belt extenders, plus-size coffins, extra-wide toilet seats and "O" cup bras. For some products, a larger size has become the new standard. (Post continues below.)

Here are some of the ways businesses are adjusting: 

  • Movie theater seats are as much as 26 inches wide, 6 more than the standard size in the 1980s.
  • "Big and tall" school furniture is outselling the standard size, CNN reports
  • Manufacturers of child safety seats for cars have upped their weight limits.
  • Ambulances can haul more weight. For instance, "Texas ambulance service provider Medstar upgraded most of its fleet of industry standard Ford chassis to accommodate obese patients in March 2011," Everyday Health says.
  • Hospitals are installing surgery tables that can support heavier patients, Also, Reuters says, "The University of Alabama at Birmingham's hospital, the nation's fourth largest, has widened doors, replaced wall-mounted toilets with floor models able to hold 250 pounds or more, and bought plus-size wheelchairs (twice the price of regulars) as well as mini-cranes to hoist obese patients out of bed."
  • Carmakers are also adjusting. More vehicles have rearview cameras, which help drivers who can't turn around to see when they're backing up. Hondas have wider seats, and the grab handles in Mercedeses are being strengthened to handle more weight, says Motor Trend. Just in case you're interested, Consumer Reports has identified the best vehicles for larger drivers. (It takes an extra 938 million gallons of gasoline a year for cars to haul all the extra weight around, by the way.) 
  • Seats at newer venues like Yankee Stadium are a couple inches wider.
  • Revolving doors are 2 feet wider than they used to be, the Sun Sentinel of Florida says.
  • Next year, new Amtrak dining cars will accommodate bigger people, and New Jersey Transit is adding width to its seats. The New York Times adds, "… the Federal Transit Administration has proposed to raise the standard for bus testing to 175 pounds and 1.75 square feet per passenger, from 150 pounds and 1.5 square feet."
  • Crash test dummies might get bigger too. That was recommended by a new study that "finds that a moderately obese driver faces a 21% increased risk of death in a severe automobile crash, while the risk of not surviving the crash increases to 56% for 'morbidly obese' drivers," MSN Autos says.

Surely the cost of some of this will be borne by all of us. What's now better understood is how much our unhealthy weight is adding to the nation's health care costs -- an extra $190 billion a year in 2005 dollars, according to a new study. That's slightly more than 20% of the total, "or to put in more understandable terms for Americans, (the cost of) about 62 billion Big Macs that year," Dino Grandoni wrote on The Atlantic.

And, the Harvard School of Public Health says, "Looking ahead, researchers have estimated that by 2030, if obesity trends continue unchecked, obesity-related medical costs alone could rise by $48 (billion) to $66 billion a year in the U.S."


You can bet that more employers will require obese workers (and those who smoke) to pay higher premiums for health insurance. The New York Times explains:

Current regulations allow companies to require workers who fail to meet specific standards to pay up to 20% of their insurance costs. The federal health care law raises that amount to 30% in 2014 and, potentially, to as much as half the cost of a policy.

More from MSN Money:

May 16, 2012 4:57PM
When are the airlines going to update their seats to accommodate larger people..........and in so doing, give us other people some ROOM!
May 16, 2012 4:18PM
Wow.  We would rather simply reamain fatties and change the world around us instead of just pick up a salad every once in a while.

I was feeling a little disappointed with chosing a healthy lunch today.  Then I read this article and felt a lot better about it.
May 16, 2012 4:32PM

The road in front of my office closed, leaving folks who didn't bring lunch no way to drive to McD's.  Then I witnessed something amazing, fat people walking in groups with smiles on their faces to McD's and Taco Hell.  It was like they were happy to be out walking.  I'd never seen anything like it.  It sort of made me wonder what the hell is wrong with people.    

May 16, 2012 6:06PM
Bigger does not mean fatter. Some people are bigger from vitamins and having muscles and big strong bones from being physically fit. Muscle and bone weigh more than fat, and long waisted people with short legs weigh much more than people with long legs. I feel the weight charts we have are out of touch with reality. Until you have actually correctly measured body fat you cannot make conclusions and projections. Until you have done your homework, and correctly measured fat vs big healthy frames you have no right to apply the word fatter in the title for the cause of larger and stronger items, seating etc.  Many of the facts in the article use words like bigger and heavier and weight and big and tall. Big business wants to use the weakest possible components, the smallest buttons, zippers and amounts of materials and eliminate choices as well as some airliner toilets to make evey possible penny it can, at the expense of your comfort health and safety, but this is not mentioned, nor are unhealthy chemical food additives like HFCS approved by the FDA. I believe this title is just more in the series of what I feel are previous MSNBC attention getter articles and pictures against fatter people. I am honestly curious about MSNBC, if a sensational title can attract more readers, do they get more ads placed with them?
May 16, 2012 7:13PM
Seems to me that a regulatory committee needs to find out why wider wheelhairs are "twice the price of regulars".  Sounds like price-gouging to me.
May 16, 2012 6:00PM
There are too many people on the planet to feed them all healthily and nutritiously.  The only way to feed the spiraling population growth is with even more food additives and processing.  Thus, obesity will continue and increase.   
May 16, 2012 5:40PM
Does that mean skinny people can get half priced seats if they share with another skinny person?
May 16, 2012 7:41PM


Signs you need to diet:
1.  Every time you get on an escalator, it grinds to a halt.
2. After your last Happy Meal, you affected the earth's gravitational pull.
3. It takes the "Jaws of Life" to get out of your vehicle, and you haven't even been in an accident.
4. You stand in the shower for 15 minutes before you get completely wet.
5. The 48 oz. "If You Can Eat it all it's FREE" steak platter is named after you.



May 18, 2012 8:58AM
Let's think about this for a second . . .

1. food is more plentiful and more easily accessible than ever before
2. there are more varieties in the types of foods that we eat than ever before
3. food costs more than ever before
4. there is more pressure to be thin because of advertising, celebrities, etc. than ever before
5. there are more harmful ingredients in our foods than ever before

I think before we all start pointing fingers at people who weigh more and saying that they are "fatties" and making jokes about them, we should probably take a look in the mirror. Just because you are able to eat whatever you want and still stay thin doesn't mean that you are a prime example of a healthy lifestyle. It means that you may be just a hop, skip, and a jump from being obese yourself. EXCEPT you have one thing going for you that other people may not: a fast metabolism. This is not something that you can just order from Amazon and install it in the same day. It's hundreds of years of very fortunate genetics. Now, I'm not saying that genetics is the ONLY thing, just that it tends to be the primary reason why the people mentioned above are able to eat anything and not gain weight. For the rest of us mere mortals, it's a little more difficult. It's easy for EVERYONE to have an opinion about this (myself included): people should be coddled, people should be chastised, whatnot. But let's just be honest: can we really BLAME people for eating more when there is all kinds of advertising suggesting that we do so? Our society is structured in a way that people are likely to become obese for all of the reasons mentioned above. So, until we can maybe turn down the subliminal messages from advertising a notch, I don't think that we should all leap to conclusions that it is ONLY the individual's fault.

As someone who loves a former heavier (in his own opinion) person who later suffered from anorexia, I don't think it's as easy to tell people what is right and what is wrong for every single one of them. I would certainly not want someone to do that to me.
May 16, 2012 8:08PM
Hahahaha, now that they got  people to quit smoking, because not long ago THAT'S what was costing us billions in health care, etc., now it's the fat people.  Even funnier is that the reason everyone is fat is because they aren't smoking.  Instead of that cig after a meal, they just keep eating. When they are stressed, they eat.  Sad.  Smokers were never accomodated like obese people, but if we don't accomodate the obese it will be discrimination.  Pick and choose.  And please don't start the posts about how fat people aren't hurting anybody else.
May 16, 2012 6:30PM
The times are changing now  the poor get fat.  Hate to say it, but  making fun of the obese is really one of the last forms of acceptable discrimination.  Obesity should not be coddled.  Just like you wouldn't enable drug addict or an alcoholic,  Adjusting the size of things is not the way to approach the obesity epidemic.   It's like buying a drunk another bottle or a heroin addict another bag. 
May 17, 2012 10:36AM
It would be nice if people were willing to educate themselves about what is healthy for them to eat according to their body types. Not everyone loses wait from eating protein and not everyone gains weight from eating grains. Luckily, California is trying to pass a law that will require labeling GMO foods - that is a start. Many people have no clue how harmful GMO foods are to their health. For those where no diet whatsoever works, please look into bariatric surgery  and liposuction, do not shift the health care costs to those who treat their bodies responsibly by eating right for their type and exercise.
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