Americans Are So Fat, We Need Bigger MRIs

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We've constantly been told that obesity is one of the leading causes of health problems in the United States, today the Wall Street Journal reports on a new wrinkle on that obesity-health connection, as they found that some hospitals don't have equipment strong enough to deal with their injured, obese patients. Wall Street Journal tech reporter Christopher Weaver's piece this morning sits on the axis of fascinating tech reporting, business, and culture as he explores how America's obesity epidemic affects not only the bodies of Americans, but also the expenses of hospitals that have to treat them by buying bigger equipment. And Weaver's piece comes on the heels of a health advocacy group's report (that should probably be taken with a grain of salt), reported on today by the AP, which states that by 2030, more than half the people in 39 states will be obese--the CDC has the obese rate in U.S. adults at 33.9 percent. As Weaver explains, the problem is two-fold: First, MRIs, CT scanners, and X-rays just can't penetrate the greater masses of tissue, and secondly, those machines just can't hold morbidly obese patients. And what it all boils down to is that severely obese Americans can't get the treatment because surgeons won't operate without the scans. Oof. And, because this is The Wall Street Journal and a business story, there are people making money off of this problem. Weaver writes: 

"The U.S. is the biggest market for us, so every product we build has the obese American patient in mind," said Bernd Montag, chief executive of Siemens AG's imaging division, which makes computed tomography, or CT, scanners to support patients well over 600 pounds, though its MRI machines remain smaller. "It more or less has turned into a design requirement." ...

Hospitals could expect to spend as much as 40% more for large-size CT scanners, which now cost up to $650,000, said Roberto Aranibar, an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

"The best solution to this problem is to make sure no one gets obese," said Raul Uppot, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital whose research over the last decade helped hospitals and manufacturers recognize the need for larger equipment.

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