Obesity epidemic problematic for radiologists, prosperous for device makers

While the U.S. obesity epidemic--which is spiraling rapidly out of control according to a new report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation--is presenting challenges to radiology departments, it's also creating business opportunities for medical imaging manufacturers.

If obesity rates continue increasing at their current rate, more than 50 percent of the populations in 39 states could be deemed obese by 2030, according to the report. That poses problems for radiologists who, according to a recent article in RSNA News, still are having trouble dealing with current obesity rates. The problems range from difficulties involved in lifting and positioning patients to improving the image quality in obese patients while limiting radiation dosages.

It also means hospitals need imaging equipment large and powerful enough to handle bigger patients. That need presents business opportunities to medical imaging manufacturers, reports the Wall Street Journal.

According to the article, the manufacturing of more powerful scanners has become a trend across the medical imaging industry. "The U.S. is the biggest market for us, so every product we build has the obese American patient in mind," Bernd Montag, chief executive of Siemens AG's imaging division, told WSJ. "It more or less has turned into a design requirement."

Other manufacturers such as GE and Philips, also are producing larger imaging machines. In fact, according to the WSJ article, the diameter of CT scanners has increased from an industry standard of 60 centimeters 15 years ago, to more than 80 centimeters today.

The production of these larger, more powerful machines comes at a cost. According to an analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, hospitals can expect to pay up to 40 percent more for a new generation of large-scale CT scanners, which now cost as much as $650,000.

One possible alternative to bigger machines, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Physics in Medicine & Biology, could lie in the use of "obese phantoms." Researchers developed a set of 10 computational phantoms representing five male and five female patients of body mass index (BMI) classifications ranging from normal to morbidly obese. X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans are simulated on each of the phantoms to study the effect of obesity on CT imaging dose.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article
- here's the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report
- check out the article in RSNA News


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