Americans Too Fat for X-rays

Yo mamma is sooooo fat that an x-ray won’t penetrate. Sadly, that’s no longer just a joke:

More and more obese people are unable to get full medical care because they are either too big to fit into scanners, or their fat is too dense for X-rays or sound waves to penetrate, radiologists reported on Tuesday.

With 64 percent of the U.S. population either overweight or obese, the problem is worsening, but it represents a business opportunity for equipment makers and hospitals, said Dr. Raul Uppot, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We noticed over the past couple of years that obesity was playing a role in our ability to see these images clearly,” Uppot said in a telephone interview.

Radiologists have their own term for it when writing up reports: “These images are limited due to body habitus.”

Granting that having too much to eat, not enough hard work, and too much leisure time beats almost all of the maladies our ancestors had to grapple with by a mile, this is still rather pitiful.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. About two decades ago my wife worked for a hospital doing ultrasounds. She routinely got a free lunch out of ultrasound machine salesmen who would tall here their latest gizmo was super fantastic and could scan anybody. She would often have the lunch at a local Mexican food place, point to the chef who weighed 400+ pounds and ask if they would be interested in doing a test run on him with their new machine. The salesmen would uniformly decline, acknowledging the limitations of ultrasound to penetrate large amounts of fat.

    So if they are realizing “over the past couple of years that obesity was playing a role in our ability to see these images clearly”, then they are a couple decades behind the times. Now it may be that there is an increase in obesity for patients that is making the market more interesting for machine manufacturers. But the impact of obesity on getting a good ultrasound image has been known for a long time. Maybe its different in X-ray, but I suspect that field has known about the limitations on X-rays and size for a while also.