Sign of the Obese Times: Heavier People Live XXX-Large

If you thought it's harder to get a seat on the bus in recent years, you're right. Last week, the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) 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.

Buses are just the latest way the world has been expanding to accommodate expanding waistlines. Here are six more things that have recently plumped up in response to the more than 68 percent of Americans who are now considered either overweight or obese.

Size Does Matter

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 37.5–29.5-40. Many clothing manufacturers now engage in this so-called vanity sizing because they know the psychological boost we get from squeezing into smaller numbers even when we are so obviously expanding. Today's size 4 was a size 8 two decades ago.

Some clothing makers tell it like it is, however. Because of an overwhelming demand for roomier garments, Haralee Sleepwear, a niche nightwear company in Oregon recently added a 3X size to accommodate up to 49-42-54 measurements or a 22-24 clothing size. "Currently sizes XL and up accounts for about 40 percent of our business," said company founder, Haralee Weintraub. "The demand is growing steadily every year."

Season's Growings

Santa doesn't need much help to pull off the fat and jolly look anymore. In 1996, the largest St. Nick outfit sold at was 2X, and sales of oversized suits accounted for just 12 percent of business. Today, the company offers a 4X, and plus-sized outfits are a third of business. An original 1948 pattern owned by Western Staff Services Company in California has expanded inch by inch until it now accommodates a St. Nick who exceeds 300 pounds and a 50-inch beltline.

At the same time, sales of padding to fill out the bowl-full-of-jelly look have plummeted. Though he's never been the poster boy for washboard abs, at least he used to fit through the chimney.

Tale of the Scale

"Finding a scale that went over 300 pounds was nearly impossible a few years ago", said Gary Shane, the sales manager for The Precision Weighing Company, an online site that sells scales. "Now they routinely go up to 400 or 500 pounds." Shane's company does a brisk business selling models such as the Siltec Model WS1000 that measure up to 1,000 pounds of body weight. Some are sold to TV production companies whose programs focus on people needing to lose big.

It isn't just a matter of registering larger numbers; a well-designed obesity or "bariatric" scale has a significantly roomier platform to accommodate larger feet plus support bars or arm rests. Shane noted that the new specialty scales are an improvement from a decade ago when hospitals weighed-in heftier patients on basement laundry scales.

Supper, Including The Last One

Plate and food serving sizes depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown throughout history, according to a 2010 study by Cornell's Brian Wansink, published in the International Journal of Obesity. Wansink used computer generated technology to analyze the size of food items in 52 paintings and found the size of the entrees in Last Supper paintings have progressively increased 66 percent, plate size 66 percent, and bread size 23 percent in the past 1,000 years.

Did this portend the growth spurt to today's jumbo-sized portion sizes? Perhaps. In a 1960s version of "The Joy of Cooking," a brownie recipe was considered to serve 30 but now the exact same recipe tells you to cut it into 16 brownies. Today's cookies are, on average, 700 percent larger than the USDA standards, and restaurant pasta servings exceed the government's standards by 480 percent, according to New York University nutrition researcher, Lisa Young.

Big Relief

Being extremely obese complicates the simplest things, even something as basic as going to the bathroom. Enter Big John, makers of oversized toilet seats. They cater to the more than 72 million overweight Americans by offering generously padded seats that are 19 inches wide and 2 inches taller than the standard seat, which measures 14 inches wide. They have a weight capacity of 1,200 pounds.

Big John also sell supports that can be placed under the bowl to bolster the typical wall hung toilet, which have been known to crack or collapse under larger loads. Since the company started making the seats in 2004, revenue has skyrocketed, increasing 50 percent every year.

Pair that with an Ideaworks Long Reach Comfort Wipe, a 16-inch extender wand that holds toilet paper for those who can't quite make the reach around. It sells for $6.45 on Amazon and reviewers give it four out of five stars, noting that it's a terrific product once you get over the learning curve and are okay with replacing it every few months.

The Great Beyond

Even in death, some require extra leg room. Laurens Fish, director of the Weed-Corley Fish Funeral Home near Austin, Texas, said he's begun selling caskets up to 54 inches wide, more than double the size of the standard 24-inch width. When Goliath Casket began producing triple-wide caskets in the late 1980s that hold up to 700 pounds comfortably, they sold an average of one per year. Now they ship half a dozen models a month.

As in life, having some extra girth as you pass into the afterlife can inflate costs. Super-sized caskets carry a price tag up to $3,000 more than average. If a larger plot and concrete vault is needed that can add $1,000 to burial costs. "When a casket is really large you may be required to buy two plots," Fish noted.