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Ergonomic Office Furniture for Obese Employees

Regular readers may recall previous posts on how the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population requires design consideration from seat car belts to hospital equipment. It is therefore no surprise that someone has now considered the need for redesigning office furniture to accommodate those with excess weight.

In a paper by Claire Gordon and Bruce Bradtmiller, published in the latest issue of WORK, the authors examine the potential impact of the increasing rates of obesity on office furniture design.

As the authors note, despite a 5-fold increase in the prevalence of obesity (and an even higher fold increase in severe obesity), little work has been done on ergonomic design of office (or other) furniture.

Based on data available from military personnel from1987-1988 and 2006-2007, the authors note that:

“Examining those two data sets in particular, mean values increased for anumber of important ergonomic dimensions in ap-proximately 20 years. For example, malebiacromial (shoulder) breadth increased 12.7 mm; male bideltoid (upper arm) breadth increased 8.1 mm,while male torso circumferences – all important in personal protective equipment – increased 40 mm or more”

“For many of the stature-related dimensions, the change was inconsequential for design. But for manyof the weight related dimensions, the changes weresubstantial. For example, male Forearm-Forearm Breadth increased by 33.9 mm (49.0 mm for females)and male Hip Breadth Sitting increased by 20.0 mm(39.9 mm for females).”

Although the paper does focus on issues perhaps more relevant for military personal, the implications are probably the same for regular office workers.

Given that the obesity epidemic is not going anywhere anytime soon and we will continue seeing an increasingly obese workforce, office furniture designers (and those who buy it) may wish to take note.

Miami, FL

ResearchBlogging.orgGordon CC, & Bradtmiller B (2012). Anthropometric change: implications for office ergonomics. Work (Reading, Mass.), 41, 4606-11 PMID: 22317429



  1. Occupational Therapist have similar challenges with finding equiment for clients. It will often have the appropriate weight capacity for a client, but the dimensions of the equipment can be very challenging to work with. For example, a bath seat may have a cross brace across the legs to increase the weight capacity from 300-700lbs, but there sometimes has been no change made in the size of the seat for the client to sit on. It can be a challenge to find the most appropriate assistive devices that the client will feel comfortable and safe using. It is very important to take note of the distance between arm rests, seat width, and seat depth when considering different seating options or assistive devices.

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  2. I’d also like to see doctor’s examining tables designed for those of us who are morbidly obese. They are scary to lay on because they are narrow, and impossible to get off of without help. They are also too high, so getting on them using a narrow stool is tricky. And if you’re a woman trying to have an internal exam – well good luck with that.

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  3. You know, honestly all that’s needed for most people is sturdy chairs without armrests.

    I’ve been to the obesity unit of the local hospital (for reasons completely unrelated to my health or weight) and they have two kinds of chairs: regular people chairs and giant chairs, presumably for the patients. Both have armrests. The regular chairs are so narrow that the armrests dig uncomfortably into my hips, and I’m not all that large. I wear a size 16 or 18W and my BMI is… hum, probably around 35 or 36. The giant chairs are crazy. They look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and I look like a 5 year old, size-wise, if I sit on one.

    I can sit comfortably on a $5 Ikea stool. I have friends that weigh 300-400 pounds and are comfortable on normal, wooden, sturdy dining room chairs – without armrests. Got that? No need to spend the big bucks. Regular chairs. No armrests. Thanks.

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  4. Oh, and that 400 pound rated chair in the clipart? My husband could sit on my lap on that and we wouldn’t exceed the weight limit, but the damn arms might still dig into my hips.

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  5. I agree with a need to have office furniture for overweight people, I think it makes sense since extra weight adds increasing demands on various parts of the body and if a chair can help eleviate some of that stress on the body then that is great. I also agree that a lot of problems with chairs found in waiting rooms etc could be reduced by taking the arms off the chairs. I was quite frustrated while attending school, most of the chairs in common areas had arms that were clearly designed for a person with little or no extra weight on them. I found it difficult to sit in them, and I could not sit all the way back. Everything was too tight, it would dig into my thighs and hips. It was also embarrasing that I was too large to sit in these chairs and would have to go out of the way to find somewhere else to sit. I had very good friends that understood, however my frustration could have been avoided if more chairs had been provided without arm rests. On the flip side, chairs are nice with arm rests and I think that geriatric chairs are a very important part of office furniture, arm rests can also assist someone when they are in the process of standing.

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  6. We have to take care of employee comfort while designing office furniture.

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