Monday, March 30, 2009

Fat People and Elevators

It is the modern-day version of the chicken and the egg theory, and it has bothered me for years. I first started contemplating the phenomenon during my time working in a high-rise building. Well ok – maybe the building was only seven stories, but in a city where a two story home is considered to be “tall” and where an old 202 foot tall grain elevator was actually the tallest building in the entire state prior to it’s demolition, seven stories was about as close to a high-rise as I was going to get.

In any case, I had an office on the first floor and had to interact with people located throughout the building, which required quite a few elevator rides. Due to the number of people using elevators, I found it to be faster and less of a hassle to use the stairs in many cases, and if I was going to the second, third, or fourth floors it was almost always faster to take the stairs instead of the elevator. As an added bonus I got a bit of exercise on the way, and that is rarely a bad thing.

The interesting facet of this story is that the cafeteria / break room for the entire facility was located on the second floor, so considering it was only one story up one might think a lot of people would choose the stairs instead of waiting for the lone elevator to carry them up – but if you thought that, you would be wrong.

Not only did people willingly wait several minutes for the elevator to carry them a whopping 12 feet skyward, but they would actually do the same for the return trip back down. So add up one trip each way for two breaks and a lunch and you have quite a bit of waiting. Add another trip up and down to the skywalk which connects to the parking ramp and then another trip up and down in the skywalk elevator to reach the floor where employees would park, and you have even more downtime.

A conservative estimate suggested to me that these people are spending at least ten minutes a day waiting for the elevator assuming they only use it the three times they take breaks and/or eat lunch or for the trip in and out in the morning which requires two separate elevators. For the average person that works out to be 50 minutes per week which if they were to work every week of the year would be a staggering 2,600 minutes or around 43 hours a year!

Keep in mind this estimate is assuming an average wait time of one minute per trip, and I can tell you from experience the average wait time in that particular building was well beyond a minute. Can you imagine waiting 43 hours a year just for an elevator? To make matters worse, there were employees that would travel between floors quite often for various meetings or as part of their daily jobs, so they are probably spending another 10 minutes a day staring a stainless steel door wondering when it might open.

Now compare that to those who chose to take the stairs and you will soon realize where I’m going with this. Obviously those who take the stairs are more active, but aside from that they aren’t spending 43 frigging hours a year standing there pressing a little button because they are too damn lazy to climb one flight of steps.

So, as months passed and I continued to observe the flock of people standing in front of the elevator on my way to the stairs, I started to notice a disturbing trend. In my unscientific observations, it appeared the vast majority of these people were significantly overweight. I’m not talking about 10 or 15 extra pounds here – I’m talking about 30, 50, maybe even 80 pounds over and above what is considered to be average.

So eventually this all got me thinking. Why are these people so heavy, and what is the common link? Have they always been heavy? Is it a lifestyle common to people who work that type of job? Is there something in the water? It just didn’t make sense, and that is what led me to my conundrum.

Are people fat because they ride elevators – or do people ride elevators because they are fat?

I just don’t know how to answer this one. On one hand I can see how the 5’5”, 270 pound woman is going to ride an elevator because huffing it up a flight of stairs might cause the oil coursing through her veins to coagulate and result in cardiac arrest. However, it really makes me wonder how many of her extra pounds are a direct result of lifestyle choices such as riding an elevator instead of taking the stairs.

Combine such choices with an overall lack of exercise beyond the energy required to pull the handle on the recliner after watching Sex in the City reruns, being the type of person who always finishes her plate, the constant supply of soft drinks and the extra Snickers bar or two and you’ll soon see it doesn’t take a wise man to figure out why someone like this is fat.

On the other hand, who can really say if the elevator is really part of the cause? What if someone just got heavy due to other lifestyle choices or genetics etc, and due to their weight their legs and knees simply couldn’t handle going up and down stairs. Now this person is forced to ride an elevator as a result of being heavy – and riding the elevator simply compounds the issue to result in even more weight gain.

Now I fully realize some people will suggest I’m being insensitive and that not all fat/overweight/heavy/obese people are fat/overweight/heavy/obese from simply overeating or a lack of exercise, and I’ll actually agree that is probably the case in about .0004% of the cases in America, but let’s all be realistic here. The average fatty isn’t shopping at Lane Bryant or the Big and Tall store because of genetics unless you consider the fact they were born with elbows that allowed them to shovel massive quantities of calories into their mouths throughout the day a genetic issue.

Beyond that, there really is only one reason why obese people are obese, and it comes down to how much they eat. Yes there are differences in metabolism, and yes some people are predisposed to be heavy versus others who are predisposed to be thin, but at the end of the day if the 325lb man with a abdominal panus the size of a small child would simply step away from the buffet and eat three sensible meals consisting of no more than 1500 calories per 24 hour period, there is no doubt in the world that he would lose weight. Heck the guy could probably eat 2500 calories a day and still lose weight – and that is sort of my point.

Face it – eating less is exactly why the lap-band and stomach stapling procedures work so well. They don’t change the metabolism of a person, they don’t change anything on a genetic level, they don’t even change anything in the brain – but they change how much a person can eat and they force those who undergo the procedure to eat small meals instead of cramming themselves full each and every time they put a plate in front of them. In short they simply force a person to have a little self-control.

Therefore, my little anti-obesity rant aside, this still doesn’t provide an answer to my question. I know human nature dictates that people will often take the easy way out. I fully realize that nobody looks at an extra piece of cheesecake as if it could be the difference between them actually being able to walk to their car without getting winded or having to request a handicapped parking pass, and I understand that the average person is never going to look at an elevator as “cheating” themselves out of good health. All of that being said, it no longer surprises me when I see a gaggle of fatties standing by an elevator in a two story building while everyone else takes the steps.

I’m just sayin’…


  1. ....and may I add that it appears that 'fat is the new disability'. Why are the disabled seats in the bus occupied by obese people? Is 'fat the new disability'?

  2. Who knows... I often wonder that when I see really heavy people with handicapped parking passes. Then those very same people seem to always be riding the powered scooters at Walmart... which is another one of those "chicken and the egg" types of debates that I don't have the energy to write about!