As the US gets heavier, makers of MRI machines and other medical scanners are rushing to cope—by literally enlarging their equipment. But for some Americans, the process isn't going fast enough. The Wall Street Journal recounts the story of a 630-pound Maryland mechanic who's been out of work because he can't get surgery for an injured back without an MRI; in a year of searching, he hasn't been able to find a machine that fits him. For equipment manufacturers, however, US obesity—which affects 28% of the population—offers a chance to rake in more cash.
Over the past 15 years, CT scanners' diameters have grown from about 2 feet to some 2½ feet. "The US is the biggest market for us, so every product we build has the obese American patient in mind," says a Siemens exec. "It more or less has turned into a design requirement." It's not just about the machines' size, however: Imaging can be distorted by layers of fat, and more radiation is needed for bigger patients. Engineers are working on software-driven fixes. Of course, "the best solution to this problem is to make sure no one gets obese," says a radiologist. "But, as Americans ... instead of going to the best solution, we just build a bigger machine."