Should the World Accommodate the Obese?

April 19, 2009 08:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
United Airlines is the latest airline to begin charging "severely overweight passengers" for two seats. Should airlines and other industries be more accommodating of the obese?

Obesity On Board

On sold-out flights, United Airlines has decided that "severely overweight passengers" whose girth infringes on others' space must wait for the next flight and purchase two tickets, or purchase a business class seat on the same flight, reported the Chicago Tribune. But some obese fliers say airlines should be accommodating them, not the other way around.

The problem is two-fold, according to the Chicago Tribune: Cabins are increasingly crowded as airlines struggle to milk the most revenue from each flight, and Americans are more overweight than ever before. Delta, American and Southwest Airlines each has its own policy for dealing with overweight passengers, but "some question how they can enforce such measures fairly, or without creating disastrous customer relations."
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) interviewed passengers who have dealt directly with the issue. One frequent flier named Terry told interviewers he would refuse to pay for an extra seat if asked to.

"Why should I? It's not my fault that the airlines made the seats so small. I'm not two people," he told the ABC.

Terry also called two-seat requirements "highly discriminating" and claimed "obesity is a functional disability." However, Simon Westaway of Australia's Jetstar Airways told the ABC, "The reality is no court in Australia has proven that obesity is a disability."

Opinion & Analysis: Accepting the overweight, or encouraging obesity?

Many researchers have questioned whether various industries should make alterations to accommodate obesity, or whether overweight citizens should change their habits.

In a 2003 article published by CBS News, Arthur Caplan, chairman of the ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said, "If we tacitly readjust our world, in some sense we are responding to reality. At the same time, there is no doubt that making those adjustments makes it easier to live bigger."

Related Topic: Hospitals and theme parks forced to make changes

In 2007, CalorieLab reported that the Small World boat ride at Anaheim Disneyland would have to be reengineered to accommodate larger passengers. The ride was constructed in 1963, when average male and female riders were assumed to weigh 175 pounds and 135 pounds, respectively. Today, adults on the Small World ride often weigh more than 200 pounds, increasingly causing "overweighted boats" to "bottom out, becoming stuck in the flume," according to CalorieLab. A spokesman for Disney denied that there was an "obesity connection," however, and said that years of patching and repairs are to blame.

Hospitals have also had to make changes to meet the needs of obese patients. In 2008, SurgiStrategies reported that some facilities must be updated and redesigned, and hospital workers must also learn how to safely handle obese patients. In some instances, architects and designers have been consulted to create "approaches to minimize workplace injuries associated with caring for these patients."

In Omaha, Neb., for example, hospital beds and toilets have been altered to accommodate the influx of obese patients. "We used to not see patients over 350 pounds; now it's a very common thing," Lynn Crowley of Creighton University Medical Center told KETV Omaha. Doctors told the television station that hospitals' minor changes are just the beginning, and to "expect a halo effect on society, with changes necessary at any public venues, including public bathrooms, bus benches and other facilities."

Reference: Obesity


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