Obesity in the car: why overweight drivers may be more likely to crash

Some alarming new research suggests yet another reason for the obese to take weight loss seriously: death by car crash.

Data on car accidents in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System revealed that overweight drivers--specifically obese drivers--are more likely to die in an auto accident than people of healthy weights.

An unlikely road hazard

The study, published online in the Emergency Medicine Journal, included data from car accidents in which the automobiles involved were the same size. Statistics on the drivers' height and weight--from their driver's licenses--were then collected.

The researchers looked at 6,806 drivers that were involved with 3,403 accidents. All of these accidents included a fatality. Of the 5,225 drivers for which the researchers had accurate and complete information, 18 percent were obese, 3 percent were underweight and 46 percent were of a normal weight.

BMI increases risk of road death

The higher the BMI of a driver, the more likely he or she was to die in a car crash. Drivers with low to medium BMIs (under 18 or between 25 and 29.9) had the same death rates.

Drivers with BMIs between 30 to 34.9 had a 21 percent death rate increase, and those with a 35-39.9 BMI saw that number jump to a 51 percent increase.

The connection between driver death and obesity isn't entirely clear, but the researchers note one study that suggested the impact of forward motion happens faster for obese people, which doesn't allow a seat beat enough time to engage a protective manner.

“Vehicle designers are teaching to the test — designing so that crash-test dummies do well,” said Thomas M. Rice, lead study author and epidemiologist with the Transportation Research and Education Center of the University of California, Berkeley. “But crash-test dummies are typically normal size adults and children. They’re not designed to account for our nation’s changing body types.”

Rice notes the research is just "one more item" in the long list of adverse health consequences that can happen because of obesity.

New York Times Health

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