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GENERATION XXXL: Is Big the New Normal?

Jan 10, 2014 10:20AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

One out of three adults in the United States (36 percent) is obese. In 1990, less than 15 percent hit the scales that heavily. And the numbers seem to be going up daily.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Well, you can guarantee we took a shortcut—because we’d do just about anything to avoid moving. Never in history have humans been so sedentary. Remember the old joke that your grandparents had to walk to school, even in blizzards, and it was uphill…both ways? There’s actually some truth in that. In the days when America ruled the world in manufacturing and farming, an often intense physical effort was needed to perform our jobs. Fewer workers spent the day at a desk. And when they were children, our parents and grandparents also spent a lot more time outdoors doing something they referred to as “playing.” It was spontaneous, exhilarating, and exhausting.

Then there’s the issue of what we consume while we are doing all this standing still. We have super-sized our lives and our waistlines. But we’ve had a lot of help. Considering the choices we are now offered, we have few options not to be bigger. Coca-Cola, for instance, used to come in a six-pack of eight-ounce iconic glass bottles. Now we have 12-ounce cans which come in a 12-pack carton. And if you pick up a Coke at most convenience stores, chances are you will be lugging out a 20- ounce plastic bottle masquerading as a single serving. It’s interesting to know that if you had ordered a small Coke at McDonald’s when it first opened in the 1950’s, you would have gotten a seven-ounce cup. Now a “small” is 16 ounces; a “child’s small” is 12 ounces. (We’re not picking on Coca- Cola; these figures apply to just about all carbonated beverage brands and fast-food franchises.)

Hamburgers were smaller and only had one patty way back then. Now we are offered something called “sliders” and actually eat three hamburgers at a time. Consider that a tub of popcorn at the movies used to be a fairly small cardboard box. And a cup of coffee used to be small enough to hold with one hand…and we didn’t fill it up with whipped cream and make it all foamy and mocha’d and caramelized.

HOW DO WE COPE NOW THAT WE’RE HERE?

Globalization may be making the world a smaller place, but our “stuff ” is certainly getting bigger within it. Movie seats have become more accommodating to those popcorn eaters. Rest room cubicles are expanding. Seatbelts have grown to reach around our new lap sizes. Mainstream retailers are starting to stock size 16 dress mannequins to better represent the buying public.

The next time you go into a restaurant, notice how many chairs are armless—the better to accommodate added roominess. Home catalog companies sell plus-size products such as digital bathroom scales that register up to 550 pounds, extra-wide toilet seats, folding chairs with a 1,000-pound capacity, super-strong reinforced inflatable mattresses, and personal care products including back scratchers, lotion applicators, and shoe horns.

Ambulance companies are adding special equipment to their fleets including stretchers that are six inches wider, a load ramp, and a motorized winch. And these are just the beginning of the changes in the healthcare industry.

Since seriously overweight people are more likely to experience health problems, hospitals have become the first line of defense in the retrofitting of their facilities to improve the safety of patients and caregivers.

Andie Melendez, clinical nurse specialist at Baltimore Washington Medical Center (BWMC), deals with patients, policy, and procedures. “Safety is the first concern in dealing with our widening population,” she tells us. Historically, hospital beds, for instance, have measured approximately 36 or 38 inches wide. However, beds as wide as 70 inches are now available. This sort of larger, sturdier product is called “Bariatic Equipment” and is available through specialized rental companies.

Items available include wheelchairs that can transport patients who weigh up to 1,000 pounds. For efficiency, a hospital will often contract for what is known as a Bariatic Suite, which includes all the required apparatus such as lifts, commodes, walkers, etc.

Therapeutic and diagnostic equipment has also been redesigned to better treat these patients, says Patricia Ruschaupt of Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC). AAMC has an MRI that “has a large 70 cm [27.5 inches] open bore design and a 550 lb./250 kg patient weight limit, allowing us to handle referrals for claustrophobic or very large patients.” Ruschaupt also points to AAMC’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the largest in Maryland. (Hyperbaric chambers are extensively used in wound care, a serious concern for many diabetics—obese and not.) And no detail is too small to help treat larger patients. Even needles/syringes are being made longer to provide more effective care.

The New Normal is a double-edged sword. On one side are the serious health problems of a growing population. On the other side is a community that is at the ready to meet the needs of people touched by this plus-sized problem. That includes a movement building across the country to end size discrimination. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) is a nonprofit organization with the very serious goal of “helping build a society in which people of every size are accepted with dignity and equality in all aspects of life.”
—S.H.
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