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Plenty of angles on plus-size businesses

November 12, 2013

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The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Debenhams store testing plus-sized mannequins. Photo: Jon Reid

An intriguing conference is taking place in Atlanta this week.  Obesity Week, the Nov. 11-16 convention billed as “Where Science and Treatment Meet,” is a new event that coordinates the annual meetings of The Obesity Society and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.   The program is packed with seminars ranging from the technical aspects of weight-loss surgery to research about sleep deprivation and obesity to public health issues; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that some 4,000 doctors, scientists and public health experts are expected to attend.

It’ll no doubt make news, as the topic of obesity does just about every week these days.   And being that November also is designated as American Diabetes Month, not to mention being home to a food-heavy holiday, excess poundage is more or less in the zeitgeist.   Many business beats lend themselves to features related to obesity, health care being the obvious but not the only.  For example, with benefits open enrollment season drawing to a close, you can take a look at how local employers are adapting to Affordable Care Act requirements that obesity screening be covered by health insurance; as this USA Today article points out, how plans interpret or expand upon that varies.  Which local plans and employers offer the best support for overweight members?

In light of the sponsors of Obesity Week, you might look at trends in bariatric surgery in your market; recent reports suggest that the procedures may be more effective than diet and exercise, as this NPR article points out.

What innovative treatments are area clinics and health systems investigating?  For example, I’ve heard anecdotally that simple things like texting patients  intermittently — telling them to get  up from their couch or desk and get a bit of exercise — is beneficial.   If you cover real estate — what modifications are builders making these days to accommodate a larger clientele, both in terms of general specifications and custom designs.  Those on the transportation beat may want to revisit the problem of passengers of size and seat distribution on aircraft, or take a look at the various facets of the mobility scooter industry, from issues like the problem of Medicare fraud to issues of safety and access to state-of-the-art design; here is one that says it can accommodate users up to 500 pounds and has the appropriate suspension, tires and other gear for long-distance use.

One area I haven’t seen covered as much as one might expect is that of suppliers and products for plus-size persons.    Here’s a Marketwatch feature about pent-up demand for plus-size evening gowns,  and many of you probably have heard about Abercrombie & Fitch’s woes related to curvy clientele; the chain that has been in hot water for supposedly spurning larger consumers now says it will design a plus-size line of apparel.  Full-figure store mannequins are debuting in Britain, and the market research firm IBISWorld reports that the plus-sized women’s clothing market alone is an $8 billion industry in the United States.

Beyond apparel, though, the specialty products, supplies and services for the plus-size market is intriguing; the Brylane Home catalogue offers its collection, “Plus+Size Living,” featuring items ranging from oversize furniture to bathroom aids.  A mail-order firm called Amplestuff offers items such as airline seat-belt extenders, hygiene products and XXL umbrellas for larger people.  Outsize plumbing fixtures, bicycles, caskets and more are made for the ever-increasing population of large Americans; many of these items are developed and created by small businesspersons who would make interesting profiles.


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