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University Study Finds an Increased Risk of Car Accident Fatalities for the Obese

Trusted Content
Legally reviewed by:
Erik Abrahamson
February 2, 2013
February 2, 2013 | Truck Accidents

2007 GMC Yukon DenaliData compiled by the Emergency Medicine Journal in a report by the Safety Transportation Education and Research Center at the University of California have determined that people who are overweight or obese have a much higher chance of dying in auto accidents than people who are not obese.

The New York Times blog Safe Travels reported that researchers took the information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This information was also used in conjunction with classifications for obesity as stipulated by the World Health Organization.

With a total of over 41,000 auto collisions, drivers were broken up into four groups that categorize the different body types on the BMI index.

Out of over 5200 drivers for whom researches acquired information, 3 percent of the drivers involved in accidents had a BMI of less than 18.5 percent. 46 percent of the drivers had a normal body mass of 18.5 to 24.9 percent. 33 percent were classified as overweight and 18 percent of drivers are classified by the BMI scale as being obese.

While death rates in all the accidents studied were the same for the first three body type categories, obese drivers had a higher incidence of fatalities. Some surmise that contributing factors include poor health and vehicle design, although a definite explanation for this correlation remains unclear.

Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy have suggested a couple of factors that may increase the risk of fatalities in car accidents for obese drivers. The first is that the body of an obese person body may move more in an accident before the seat belt can engage. In extreme obesity cases, obese people typically go without their seat belts or couldn’t wear the seat belts properly.

Seat belt use was not used to determine death in accidents. In addition, other issues that were not taken into account include the use of airbags, alcohol impairment, and the type of vehicle involved in the accident, the age and sex of the driver and whether the accidents were a result of a head-on collision.

Researchers go on to say that while vehicles are doing better in protecting crash test dummies, these are typically designed to reflect a normal adult or child and not someone who is overweight or obese.

This can also present problems considering that the CDC estimates that over one third of all adults may be obese. States such as Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina have some of the highest rates for obesity nationwide. Some researchers estimate that obesity levels will rise to 60 percent of the US population by as early as 2030.

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