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The Widening of the American Commuter
January 16, 2012 4:09 AM   Subscribe


 
Have they considered the possibility that shrinkogens are affecting the seats?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:15 AM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


All I can think of is those hoverchairs from Wall-E.
posted by edguardo at 4:35 AM on January 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


It appears that the article was based on a survey of 24 people. I'm really sort of seeing this as an, "OMG, Americans are FAT!!!!" article.

The CDC states that people ARE getting heavier, over the past 40 years our average weight has increased by 25 lbs. Spread that over the entire body and I suspect that our "seat" width hasn't increased that much. Are there some very heavy people around who don't fit in the seats, sure, but probably no more than before.
posted by HuronBob at 4:37 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a narrow butt, and many subway seats don't fit my backside.
posted by wingsandfins at 4:38 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It appears that the article was based on a survey of 24 people. I'm really sort of seeing this as an, "OMG, Americans are FAT!!!!" article.

There seems to be a lot of that around here lately...
posted by edguardo at 4:40 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the parts referencing buses and trains made in Japan is a bit misleading. It's not just American butts that are wider, Americans are often just bigger. I'm 6'2" and very slim. I've spent a fair amount of time in Japan over the past few years and I've gotten stuck on a Rollercoaster due to being larger than the average rider (I was somehow able to get the lap bar over my legs before the ride but unable to get it back over after the ride. It took about 20 minutes to get free. It was hilarious.), had to skip lunch at a few different cafe's due to being too big to sit at the counter, had to bend down to walk through some pedestrian tunnels at rural train stations, and stayed in ryokans where I could touch all four walls at the same time while laying down to sleep. The country's entire infrastructure (including bus and subway seats) is designed for people that are 5'9".
posted by Siempre La Luna at 4:52 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I don't know about averages, but I have never, ever seen people so overweight and overwide as in the US. Every day in the bay area I'd see people who'd have their own TV show if they lived in Chile, and we're not exactly slim.
posted by signal at 5:11 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I dunno, I've seen people in Holland and Mexico who are just as obese as any you see in the U.S. They're a little less common, but not non-existent. And Canada and the UK are probably very close to the U.S. in average waistline...
posted by 256 at 5:32 AM on January 16, 2012


Shorter commutes! The further your gut sticks out, the sooner you cross the finish line.
posted by XMLicious at 5:33 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spread that over the entire body and I suspect that our "seat" width hasn't increased that much.

An increase average means the distribution is moving towards higher weights, so the 99% butt width may very well have increased and this is what such systems are designed to handle. The average person may have gained only 25 lbs, but the average person was going to fit in the seat anyway.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:36 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not just on land, it's also at sea:

"The Coast Guard in December (2011) formally put into effect rules requiring certain passenger vessels to comply with its new Assumed Average Weight per Person. That new weight, 185 pounds, is a full 25 pounds more than the previous average, 160, a figure put in place about half a century ago — after French fries were invented but before billions and billions had been served."

Bulk’s Not Just in Bulkhead, So Coast Guard Steps In
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:43 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


As someone who is 5'8", I'm going to have to disagree with you. I regularly get hot in the head by strap handles people suddenly let o of on trains in the Tokyo area. However, even here, new trains have seats that are noticeably wider than older trains. The thing is, the trains here make sense for short commutes, with benches along the sides of train, and plenty of space for standing. People don't have to struggle to get into or out of rows of seats, and there's no middle seat problem. Most people stand, and it can suck when things are crowded, but I imagine the concept of crowded on a New York train and a Tokyo train is pretty different.

When my cousin, who had been an offensive lineman in college, came here for my wedding, he quick realized that he took up two seats whenever he sat on a subway or commuter train. He did the gentlmanly thing and stood, making himself as small as possible. It was nice to have my 6'2", 260 pound cousin here, as for once I didn't feel like the biggest person on the train.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:44 AM on January 16, 2012


Although BMI is in some ways a poor measure of obesity, especially when it comes to very athletic individuals like the offensive lineman cited above, there's no doubt that we as a nation have gotten dramatically larger over the last 25 years.

This animated gif of CDC data shows it in stark terms:

http://mpkb.org/_media/home/pathogenesis/obesity-1985-2009-cdc.gif

in 1986, there were a handful of states that had obesity rates of 10-14% (defined as BMI of 30), and no states with rates higher than that. In 2006, the SLIMMEST 3 states had rates of 10-14%, and all of the other states were above that, with nine states having obesiy rates of 30% or more.

Yes, backsides are getting bigger. Not just because we're turning into super-athletes. Here's an animated gif showing increase in diabetes by county:

http://mpkb.org/_media/home/pathogenesis/diabetesinamerica2004-8.gif

Horrifying, for those who work daily with the medical consequences of diabetes.
posted by etherist at 6:03 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


over the past 40 years our average weight has increased by 25 lbs. Spread that over the entire body

This is essentially what Dr Dracator said, but I thought I'd illustrate it with an example. Let's say that 24lbs is half a standard deviation of the population of body weight, and that weight is normally distributed, and that there is some cutoff weight where the seats are uncomfortable. (I couldn't find the actual standard deviation n a quick google search). Let's also say that the seats were designed so that only 5% of people would find them uncomfortable. A little math shows that after the half-standard deviation shift, 13% of people will find the seats uncomfortable, which is nearly a tripling, and is a sizeable chunk of the population. Further, let's say that 1% of the population simply did not fit in the seats. After the .5 standard deviation shift, over 3% find the seats impossible. That's over a tripling.

Now, most of the population won't notice a difference, but a small shift can cause large changes in the proportion of people beyond a point the tail of a distribution. Of course, the specific numbers are based on lots of (false) assumptions, but they illustrate the point.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:09 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The CDC states that people ARE getting heavier, over the past 40 years our average weight has increased by 25 lbs. Spread that over the entire body and I suspect that our "seat" width hasn't increased that much. Are there some very heavy people around who don't fit in the seats, sure, but probably no more than before.

Hold on. That is a 15% increase in weight (if you take 160-185). Even assuming we are cubes and the weight distributes evenly, that is about a 5% increase in width. So where an 18" seat cushion was perfectly comfortable before, you need a 19" seat to be comfortable now. This sets aside the fact that a lot of the change is at the extremes. When you are designing vehicles, stadiums and other areas with lots of seating an inch per seat is a huge deal.

And Canada and the UK are probably very close to the U.S. in average waistline...

Not based on the information I can find. Even ten years ago the average BMI for adult women in the U.S. was 28.1, while it was 24.9 in Canada. That's a significant difference.

It's not just on land, it's also at sea:
And in the air! Passenger weight is a significant issue, particularly when designs were certified based on an average of 160 pounds a passenger.
posted by meinvt at 6:13 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Related: 'Plump My Ride'
posted by Fizz at 6:33 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hold on. That is a 15% increase in weight (if you take 160-185). Even assuming we are cubes and the weight distributes evenly, that is about a 5% increase in width. So where an 18" seat cushion was perfectly comfortable before, you need a 19" seat to be comfortable now.

meinvent, get out of here with your fancy maths and such like! We were arguing with anecdata here...
posted by IAmBroom at 6:38 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


meinvt. The ONE time I don't cut-and-paste...
posted by IAmBroom at 6:39 AM on January 16, 2012


As someone with an empty seat next to me on a crowded Amtrak train in the South, I have a feeling this is about to become a pressing issue for me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:45 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would be SO AMAZING if we could go for like....two? Three days? Without a FPP and consequent conversation about how fat Americans are.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:50 AM on January 16, 2012 [6 favorites]



Bulk’s Not Just in Bulkhead, So Coast Guard Steps In


I was going to mention this. They just cut the number of people allowed on each ferry in Washington, for example, because of the new guidelines.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on January 16, 2012


Those NJT double-decker trains mentioned in the article have a different problem: they may allow you to put more people in the same horizontal space, but as a 5'8" woman married to a 6'4" man, I think they also look like they squash you vertically. When I lived in New Jersey, I'd see those trains and cringe at the thought of taking them. I felt vaguely claustrophobic looking at them.
posted by immlass at 6:53 AM on January 16, 2012


It would be SO AMAZING if we could go for like....two? Three days? Without a FPP and consequent conversation about how fat Americans are.

Because ignoring an issue that is effecting so many people: health, economics, living; that'll just make it go away.
posted by Fizz at 6:57 AM on January 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


The thing that jumps out at me is that this is for transit; that is, more oriented towards the portion of the population that doesn't drive everywhere and is likely more fit than average.
posted by psoas at 7:03 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The thing that jumps out at me is that this is for transit; that is, more oriented towards the portion of the population that doesn't drive everywhere and is likely more fit than average.

Transit use and lower income correlate in many areas as does higher weight and lower income in almost all, so I doubt this is true.
posted by stp123 at 7:13 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing that jumps out at me is that this is for transit; that is, more oriented towards the portion of the population that doesn't drive everywhere and is likely more fit than average.

It didn't surprise me. "Public transit disproportionately serves low income workers", and "due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty, ... low-income people are especially vulnerable to obesity."
posted by jedicus at 7:13 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be SO AMAZING if we could go for like....two? Three days? Without a FPP and consequent conversation about how fat Americans are.

I don't seem to remember any in the past few days. The situation is though, Americans are fat and it's starting to effect every aspect of American lives. People are sensitive about this, I understand, but it can't be avoided because it's real and it's unavoidable.

Anyhows, I was riding the subway, standing, and between the end of the bench and the middle pole, there were three people, two fat people and one obese woman. It should be noted that four nonoverweight/nonobese people can fit in this area. So, at the stop, the fat person in the middle oofed themselves up leaving a small opening fit for a model or yoga instructor.

So another very obese woman waddles up and intoned "*Ex-cuse* me!" as she indicated to the seat space. She sounded so entitled but no one could slide in any direction because there was no space. "Excuse me!" the standing obese woman said, more insistent.

"Where do you want me to go bitch!?" The sitting obese woman said, "Ain't no space for your fat ass! I'm right against the pole!" The standing obese woman stormed off to the extent her girth allowed her to storm. The fat guy at the end of the bench would have had to get completely up and two obese people would have been sitting on a bench that can seat four people.
posted by fuq at 7:14 AM on January 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


So another very obese woman waddles up and intoned "*Ex-cuse* me!" as she indicated to the seat space. She sounded so entitled but no one could slide in any direction because there was no space. "Excuse me!" the standing obese woman said, more insistent.

She must have one of those trick mirrors at home.
posted by edguardo at 7:37 AM on January 16, 2012


I was expecting to see an equation for the instantaneous rate of change of the average backside, but, alas, the article provides only deltas...
posted by beryllium at 7:49 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


While some of this story seems very much oriented towards LOLFat people. I think that what should be taken from the article as well as the FPP is that the health of society has changed and it's impacting many different aspects of life. The way people travel, access to health-care, etc. It's not ALWAYS about fat-shaming. Sometimes it's just a harsh reality. People are larger than they used to be and it's changing things.
posted by Fizz at 7:49 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It appears that the article was based on a survey of 24 people.

No, that was just the opening anecdote, from 1984. You kind of rushed to dismiss this; there's other information in the article, including news that federal agencies setting crash-test standards are raising the weight they test:

While it does not deal directly with width, the Federal Transit Administration has proposed to raise the standard for bus testing to 175 pounds and 1.75 square feet per passenger, from 150 pounds and 1.5 square feet. A committee for American Society of Mechanical Engineers is evaluating its crash-worthiness standard and plans to adopt a new one by April.
posted by mediareport at 8:00 AM on January 16, 2012


The seats were about 17 inches wide....

Didn't I say somethng about this once before? Oh yeah, here, let me dust that off a bit:

I have this introduction to engineering textbook that, in and of itself, isn't all that great, but it has some bitching appendices.

Appendix VII - Anthropomorphic Tables
(Adapted from Anthropomophy of Flying Personnel - 1950, WADC Technical Report 53-321 USAF...

What they did was measure 4000 male USAF personnel and reported the mean, range, standard deviation and so on. The value that applies to this discussion is number 39 - shoulder breadth.

Range: 14.57 - 22.83
Mean: 17.88
Standard Deviation 0.91

So a 17 inch wide seat was too small for the average man in the Air Force in the 1950s. I don't think high fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks or sitting around the house watching too much TV and not getting enough exercise can be blamed for that.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:21 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


So another very obese woman waddles up and intoned "*Ex-cuse* me!" as she indicated to the seat space. She sounded so entitled but no one could slide in any direction because there was no space.

As a multiple-times-a-day subway rider this is something that has always struck me: the intense desire that some people seem to have to be sitting down. This is a behavior that I see extending pretty broadly across BMIs, sexes, ages, apparent levels of fitness, etc. For me, unless I'm laden with grocery bags or the train is jam-packed or something like that, I'm unlikely to take a seat between two people regardless of how fat they might be. After all, I spend most of my day at work sitting down anyway. Pregnant women, old people, those who work at manual labor... these people need (and deserve a seat on the subway. For most everyone else, I don't see what the big deal is.
posted by slkinsey at 8:24 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Recently, I've been in several new medical facility waiting rooms that had a few extra-wide seats (too narrow for two people) in addition to regular chairs. Depressing.
posted by tippiedog at 8:27 AM on January 16, 2012


the intense desire that some people seem to have to be sitting down.

I think it just feels more stable to be sitting down when you are in a moving vehicle; I'm always afraid of falling down on the metro (I have super poor balance) -- although, when it's crowded, it's ok, as other people kind of hold you up.
posted by bluefly at 8:41 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that elderly, disabled, and pregnant people (and small children and the people with them) should get first dibs on seats, but I like to sit whenever possible because you get your own personal space to a larger degree. Standing, someone's always going to swing their bag into you or mash their whole body up against the pole you're holding.
posted by sweetkid at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2012


#firstworldproblems
posted by astapasta24 at 9:51 AM on January 16, 2012


This is just proof that public transit in this country has been captured by the dread anti-Sir Mix-a-Lot lobby.
posted by jonp72 at 9:53 AM on January 16, 2012


The value that applies to this discussion is number 39 - shoulder breadth.

Shoulder breadth is not butt size.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


So is it finally OK to start fat shaming now?
posted by keep_evolving at 10:51 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking that most people take their upper torsos with them when they travel and, typically, keep them in the same seat they keep their ass. It is possible this is in error, but I'm skeptical.

On the other hand, I'm built like a linebacker and willing to bet that my ribs will break later than the average person's so I can tough these things out if I have to.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:59 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


So is it finally OK to start fat shaming now?

Oh, you're a little late. fuq beat you to it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:14 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's an animated gif showing increase in diabetes by county:

http://mpkb.org/_media/home/pathogenesis/diabetesinamerica2004-8.gif


I'm not arguing that diabetes is not a problem or anything (as it certainly is) but there is something wrong with this map.

For example, that band of high diabetes that trails from Maryland to Louisiana just to the south of the Sumter, Oconee and Talladega national forests. This is what I'd expect to see if you're sampling a real world population - trends corresponding to real world domains.

But look at Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. In each of these states there are some distinct rural and urban areas which are very different from one another but pretty similar between the states. But looking at the map, I can't pick out any of, the urban counties (with the possible exception of the Kansas side of Kansas City) but the state boundaries just scream "HERE I AM!" It's possible that public health education is better in Nebraska than in Kansas or Missouri, but I know how good patients are at following their doctors orders after having a heart attack (not very) so I can't really believe that's the driving factor.

So is Kansas over reporting, or Nebraska under reporting? Why? How do we fix it?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:25 AM on January 16, 2012


I sit down when I can because as a smaller person it only takes one bigger person to throw me off balance and I'm peeling myself off the floor. People literally don't notice me. I am not afraid to use my pointy elbows if I must.
posted by desjardins at 11:32 AM on January 16, 2012


Philosopher Dirtbike: Seriously. "the fat person in the middle oofed themselves up" Oofed? Really?

Combine that with the not-even-latent racist (or at least aggressively classist) dialogue and you've got a real winner of a post. Gosh, I too hate those poor fat dumb people!

Christ what an asshole.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mean: 17.88
Standard Deviation 0.91


The standard 19" rack mount is perfect for seats?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:49 PM on January 16, 2012


Yeah, I was being insensitive. The obesity epidemic is very upsetting to me, which is expressed very poorly at times. Even if I used neutral language the story wouldn't go over well so I should probably stay away from commenting on stuff like this.

but it just boggles my mind. Humans are changing shape, 1/3 of Americans are obese and this is reshaping technology. It's like a strange feedback loop and, yeah, Wall-E.
posted by fuq at 4:53 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a theory that cooking food breaks it down partway, doing outside of the body some of the digestion the previously had to take place inside the body. As a result we have pathetic teeth for an animal, and our guts aren't as swollen as they used to be, when we had to let food sit in our intestines for longer. So this whole technology/body shape feedback loop isn't new.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:21 PM on January 16, 2012


Well, there are a lot of people who also take up more room on public transit than they should, not because of their overall size but because of the size of their egos, which require them to sit sprawled across two seats with their legs wide apart and their arms spread along the back of the seat. (It's almost always men who do this, though I have observed one possible butch dyke or transman doing it.)
posted by bad grammar at 7:18 PM on January 16, 2012


Shoulder breadth is not butt size.

True, but it does seem like a fair indicator of how many people you can seat side-by-side within a defined number of inches, and therefore how wide of a seat is required per person. You can't reasonably fit 10 people with 18"-wide shoulders on a 160" bleacher, even if their butts are only 16" wide. Same principle applies to a row of two or three or more seats on an bus/airplane/subway.
posted by argonauta at 10:37 PM on January 16, 2012


I prefer to sit down because even though I'm an athletic 60-year-old who weighs less than I did when I was 19, it's a heck of a lot easier for me to fall down on the bus than it used to be.
posted by Peach at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2012


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