We’ve all been warned of the dangers of obesity: it contributes to chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, shortens lifespans, and decreases your fuel economy. Add another line to that unfortunate list: a scientific study has found that obese drivers are more likely to die in or shortly after a severe car accident.
The findings come courtesy of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where Dr. Dietrich Jehle studied over 155,000 severe crashes that were reported to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Jehle calculated each crash victim’s Body Mass Index and then separated them into six categories–underweight, normal, overweight, slightly obese, moderately obese, and morbidly obese. After some statistical analysis, he found the top two categories had a statistically significant increase in deaths when compared to the normal weight category.
It’s important to note here that being overweight doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more likely to get into a crash–the study didn’t look at parameters like that–rather that obese people who were involved in severe car accidents were more likely to die as a result of them. That includes death as a result of immediate injury as well as complications that arose up to 30 days after the crash.
While Jehle didn’t give any single cause to why obese adults die more often, it’s not difficult to see how something like this can happen. Current cars are designed to protect normal weight occupants, which means that drivers carrying an extra 100 pounds will further strain safety systems like seatbelts or airbags, and are less easily restrained than normal weight people. Obese drivers with weight-related medical problems would also have a harder time recovering from serious injuries than healthier, lighter individuals.
There are two fixes to the problem. Jehle recommends that crash testing organizations like NHTSA and the IIHS use larger dummies, which would force carmakers to make better seats and safety systems. The second is slightly more obvious: a regimen of diet and exercise.