Slate has this very entertaining, slightly offensive (to me) article on, of all things, fat people.
Economy of Scale
How fat people could save American business.
But instead of seeing our obesity as a crisis, maybe it’s time we recognized it as an opportunityâ€”the rare chance for the United States to dominate a new industry. A whopping 30 percent of Americans over the age of 20 are classified as obese, up from about 14 percent in the early 1970s. Obesity-related medical costs were $75 billion in 2003, almost as much as those from tobacco. Half of these costs were picked up by the public in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association projected that obesity causes about 112,000 premature deaths annually.
The beauty of the American economyâ€”and its enduring edge over the rest of the worldâ€”is the way companies large and small nimbly adjust to meet the demands of consumers. So it is no surprise that niche businesses have arisen to serve the our fattening population: surgery practices that focus on liposuction and gastric reduction, weight loss clinics and gyms, health food stores and diet pill purveyors, personal trainers and WeightWatchers. Even reality-TV shows. The first size-friendly resort opened in Mexico’s lovely Riviera Maya in the summer of 2003. This size-friendly travel agency, according to Travel & Leisure, “advises overweight vacationers on how to avoid being charged for two airplane seats and how to find the most accommodating cruise lines.” There are dating services, too. Business Week last week noted that “the number of accredited U.S. weight-loss camps has nearly doubled in the past five years.” The women’s gym Curves has an astonishing 9,000 franchises.
The United States clearly has a head start in fatonomics. Obesity is a byproduct of many complex factors, ranging from genetics to psychology. But fast-food restaurants, sugar-laden drinks, and the availability of massive quantities of cheap food have all played important roles in making Americans heavier. So with any luck, the rest of the world will be porking up soon. After all, which American companies have been forging ahead aggressively in foreign markets? McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart. Their expansion should not only fatten the pockets of U.S. investors, they should also help fatten the local populations. It’s only a matter of decades before China and India start to lose their battles with the bulge. And where will they look for quack potions and expensive surgeries?