Hospitals, Chairs, Buses, Toilets, Caskets Redesigned to Accommodate Obese People

PHOTO: Wheelchair for the obese
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In the past year, some hospitals spent as much as $5 million to update and enlarge their facilities to accommodate obese patients, according to a recently released report by Novation LLC, an Irving, Texas, health-care supply chain company that produces annual commentary on the cost of bariatric care.

Larger patients need supersized beds, chairs and wheelchairs, open MRI machines and toilets bolted to the floor instead of the wall, the report noted. But with more than 200,000 weight-loss surgeries performed each year at a cost of up to $26,000 per surgery, many hospitals consider the extra cost a wise investment.

Hospitals are just one example of the way the world is adapting to accommodate expanding waistlines. Here are six more areas that have been recently plumped up in response to the more than 68 percent of Americans who are now considered either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Workplace

Studies estimate the total cost of obesity to U.S. employers at $73 billion a year. That number doesn't factor in the everyday ways businesses are changing the physical workspace for a plus-size work force.

Take the office chair. Chair seller ErgoHuman in Austin, Texas, said the average office chair is for a 250-300 pound person, tops. Clearly, that's not strong enough for many American workers.

Seeing a need, Ergogenesis was one of many manufacturers that introduced chairs for the extra large in the past few years. Its Bodybilt chairs were designed with an extra wide "bariatric" seat pan that can support someone who weighs up to 600 pounds. The chair has a hefty price tag too -- $1,300 – but the company reports it's selling briskly. One government agency bought 645 of them in 2012.

Buses

If it seems as if it's harder to get a seat on the bus in recent years, that would be right. In 2011, the Federal Transit Authority proposed raising the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 150 pounds to 175 pounds, which could mean that across the country, fewer people will be allowed on city transit buses.

The transit authority also proposed adding an additional few inches of floor space per passenger. The changes are being sought "to acknowledge the expanding girth of the average passenger," the agency said in a statement.

Clothes

A woman's size 14 at the Gap in 2008 fit someone with a 37-inch bust, 29-inch waist and 39-inch hips. Today that size has crept up to fit someone who's 37.5-29.5-40.

Many clothing manufacturers now engage in this "vanity sizing" because they know the psychological boost someone might get from wearing a garment two sizes smaller, even when they've undergone some obvious expansion. Today's size 4 was a size 8 two decades ago.

Even department store mannequins are sporting curvier figures. A photo of a plus-size department store dummy kicked up controversy last November when a reddit user posted a picture of it and asked the question, "Anyone else horrified that they make obese mannequins too now?" Ed Gribbin, president of mannequin manufacturing company Alvanon, estimated the mannequin would wear a plus size 24-26.

Scales

"Finding a scale that went higher than 300 pounds was nearly impossible a few years ago," said Gary Shane, the sales manager for the Precision Weighing Co., a website that sells scales. "Now they routinely go up to 400 or 500 pounds."

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