WASHINGTON : The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said obesity costs the US more than US$145 billion annually.
Local governments shoulder much of the costs, including investments in special equipment to care for overweight patients during emergency medical situations.
When a call for help comes into the Anne Arundel Fire Department, emergency personnel do not know what type of patient they will deal with until they arrive on the scene.
To be prepared, fire fighters and paramedics practice regularly.
Today, they are practicing with special equipment designed to accommodate overweight patients.
Michael Cox is a division chief with the Anne Arundel Fire Department.
“People are bigger today than they used to be 20 to 30 years ago. And we did identify a need for this type of equipment three to four years ago, and went ahead and implemented it and put it in place here in the county,” said Cox.
US health officials said one out of three American adults is obese. A Rand Corporation study from 2007 said the number of severely obese adults is growing twice as fast as the moderately overweight.
To care for the larger Americans, emergency service providers are investing in new equipment - such as the stretcher, and the ramp and winch system, which can load a patient weighing up to 680 kilogrammes into an ambulance.
“The bariatric stretchers are typically two to three times more expensive than the normal stretchers or standard stretchers that are used in medical units,” explained Cox.
The equipment can add another US$25,000 to the cost of an ambulance.
In the US, sales of emergency equipment that can handle very heavy humans has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
Michael McAdams of neighboring Montgomery County Fire and Rescue said the patients are not just big, they can be fragile.
“Some of these patients, due to their size, due to the strain they’ve put on their body, they are more susceptible even to simple stress. I need you to move, I need you to walk - these can cause them respiratory distress and can put their cardiac system at stress. And so those are issues I need to be aware of,” said McAdams.
Helping an obese patient also requires investment in training to address their unique medical needs. And it can require a lot of people - as many as 10 rescuers for a single emergency.
- AFP /ls