Increasingly, companies are making bigger products for America's bigger people, customizing everything from caskets to seat belts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of Americans are considered obese.
While some researchers say the products can help overcome the stigma of being overweight, others suggest they might encourage obesity by making extra-large the norm.
"If we tacitly readjust our world, in some sense we are responding to reality," said Arthur Caplan, chairman of the ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "At the same time, there is no doubt that making those adjustments makes it easier to live bigger."
It used to be that products for overweight people were tucked away into the corner of stores. But now, businesses ranging from clothing retailers to car manufacturers recognize that big people are big business.
Goliath Casket of Lynn, Ind., every month ships four or five triplewide models, 44 inches wide compared to the standard 24. In July, Goliath started offering a 52-inch-wide model and has already sold three, company vice president Julane Davis said.
Bill Fabrey and Nancy Summer founded Amplestuff, of Bearsville, N.Y., when Summer, who weighs 450 pounds, told Fabrey that she couldn't find a sponge to reach certain parts of her body. Fabrey, an engineer, came up with Sponge on a Stick. The company has built an entire line of products with heavier people in mind, including seat belt extenders, higher-limit scales and extra-large towels.
"Big people just want a chance to do what everyone else takes for granted," Fabrey said.
Plus-size retail clothing now represents 20 percent of all clothing sales for women, and J.C. Penney Co., Target and Nordstrom are now competing with specialty stores such as Lane Bryant and Casual Male Big and Tall.
According to a spokesman for the International Sleep Products Association, a Virginia company representing the mattress industry, sales of queen-size mattresses surpassed full-size beds in 1991 and king-size mattresses continue to gain popularity.
The proliferation of products for big people may help reduce shame about being obese, long stigmatized as indicating bad character, laziness and weakness, according to Peter Stearns, author of "Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West."
Stearns, former dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, said he believes the stigma developed as society developed a sense of guilt for consuming more and more.
While it's healthy to stop equating fat with moral failure, being fat is still unhealthy, researchers say.
"On one hand, we have to make the world safe for a fatter population," Caplan said. "But the more we adjust our world to accept our weight, the harder it is to motivate us to do the healthier thing and lose the weight."