Obesity - a Growing Health Problem for Americans
Obesity Trends in the US 1987 - 2005
(These national maps from the CDC show how quickly the obese proportion of each state's population has grown over roughly the last two decades)
Quicktime Movie
Powerpoint Presentation
Adolescent Obesity Trends in the US
(even more worrisome are these CDC data showing the explosive growth of obesity among American adolescents)

The change may be gradual, but the signs are unmistakable. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, architects and designers used a handy rule of thumb to decide how many seats they could put into a theaters, opera houses, and sports stadiums. Make them roughly 18 inches wide, and most people would be quite comfortable. At the beginning of the 21st century, that rule is in the process of being tossed into the waste bin.

Bigger Bottoms - I
Installed in the 1920s, the oldest seats in major league baseball are found in the grandstand section of Fenway Park. These seats are just 17 inches wide - a full four inches narrower than the smallest seats installed in new ballparks today.

Bigger Bottoms - II
The "old" New York City subway cars had seat dividers just 17.5 inches apart. When the cars were replaced a few years ago, passengers asked for flt bench seats so that those with more generous dimensions could still find a place to sit.

One of the first indications came just a few years ago when New York City ordered new subway cars, and asked a panel of riders to comment on the comfort of the seats. To the surprise of transit officials, the most-criticized aspect of the seats wasn't their lack of cushioning or space for the knees - it was the fact that the "bucket" space for individual bottoms were just 17.5 inches wide. The officials listened. The new cars have "bench" seats without dividers. Companies that make plastic seats for stadiums and sports arenas have seen the bottom fall out of the 18-inch seat market. When the NBA's Indiana Pacers moved from Market Square Arena, where every seat was 18 inches wide, into the new Conseco Field House, they ordered 17,500 new seats - and the smallest ones are 21 inches wide. Chair designers like to talk about how "comfortable" the new seats are, but the reality is simpler. Americans are getting fatter.