Thursday, 19 April 2007

Building design to reflect our expanding waistlines

NCREASING obesity is going to force changes in the way hospitals and other public buildings are designed.

US engineering expert Doug Wignall said yesterday that major public buildings face major design changes to cater for larger people.

Mr Wignall told delegates to the annual conference of Engineers Ireland that increases in the average weight and height of Irish men and women would have to be considered.

The senior executive of US engineering and architectural firm HDR pointed out that such modifications had already taken place in the design of similar facilities and related equipment in the US.

As three out of every 10 Americans are classified as obese, Mr Wignall said, the average length of hospital beds in the US had increased from 6ft 8in to 7ft 6in.

“The increase in bed length has had a knock-on effect on spatial area in the design of new patient buildings,” he said.

Several reports published in the last few months highlighted a high incidence of obesity among both Irish adults and children.

It is estimated that 13% of Irish adults are obese, with the figure likely to continue to rise over the next few years.

Research published earlier this year by Trinity College Dublin in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that 20% of Irish children aged seven to 10 are overweight, while 6% of those studied were clinically obese.

Young males are more likely to be overweight than girls. Researchers blamed a lack of exercise and poor diets for the problem.

Levels of obesity in Ireland are also considerably higher than many other EU countries. Other international research has shown that a common gene variant found in 16% of the population could be largely responsible for rising rates of obesity.

Kevin Kernan, director general of Engineers Ireland, said hospitals of the 1960s would be unrecognisable to many healthcare professionals today.

“What we’ve heard today from our invited speakers would suggest that advances in bio-engineering and technology, combined with the changing population trends, are going to affect our colleagues in construction,” he said.

He claimed such trends demonstrated the need for joined-up planning in the provision of healthcare facilities in the future.

The conference heard that growing levels of obesity could also have important implication for the design of transport vehicles, furniture, clothing and office space.

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