More than one-third of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s starting to show in U.S. classrooms as more children are proving too large to fit into traditional school desks and more schools try to accommodate them.
CNN reports that the hefty changes in America’s youth are reflected by the uptick in sales and manufacture of larger goods — from school desks to plus-sized children’s clothing lines to larger car seats.
Some companies are also adjusting their products to fit bigger consumers, offering larger, deeper seats or desks with adjustable heights. Others are noticing differences in sales.
Tony Ellison, chief executive officer of Shoplet.com, a company that sells office and school furniture, told CNN that the company’s “big and tall” sizes have been selling better than standard sizes, and furniture made to fit older, bigger students is being purchased more often in elementary and middle school classrooms.
“That is an obesity trend reflected in the furniture,” Tom Brennan, president of the school furniture company School Outfitters, told CNN.
The changes also prompt questions about the balance between fighting childhood obesity in schools and accommodating children with different body shapes and sizes.
Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, told ABC News that it’s unfortunate that childhood obesity is having such a noticeable impact in the classroom, but that schools do have an obligation to accommodate students of all sizes, large or small.
“There’s no gain to punishing children for their size. They’re already stigmatized,” Foster said.
Studies have associated overweight and obesity with a number of psychological woes, like depression and anxiety, which can be compounded by the social stigma of being fat. Squeezing into an undersized desk or standing out in a larger seat can be an uncomfortable, humiliating experience for a child.
“Kids want to belong, right? They don’t want to be different,” Foster said. “The principle is that you would try to make the defaults accessible to kids of all sizes.”
Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, told ABC News that the changes in school furniture parallel the questions facing airlines on how to best accommodate obese adult passengers. He said schools’ solutions to the problem should focus on long-term changes to ease kids’ obesity rates, which would make larger school furniture obsolete.
“If you want to learn well, you have to at least be comfortable. But the best solution in the long term is prevention,” he said. “I would hope that even if schools did buy [larger furniture], the problem will go away in the next few years.”