It’s not like we need another reason to get and keep excess weight off, but here it is. A new study finds obese drivers are up to 80% more likely to die as a result of a motor vehicle collision compared to normal-weight drivers.
“Our findings suggest two things: first, that there is something about obese vehicle occupants that causes poorer outcomes. That thing is probably a higher prevalence of comorbidities — other health conditions — related to obesity that inhibit survival and recovery from severe injury,” said study co-author Thomas Rice, a research epidemiologist with the University of California, Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center.
Second, earlier research has shown that the proper interaction between seat belts and the human body is inhibited in the obese, Rice said. He stressed the importance of proper seat belt use, especially among the obese. “It is critical that the lap belt be positioned as low as possible on the lap and as close to one’s pelvis as possible,” he said.
The study examined used fatality data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 1996 to 2008. During that time, details of more than 57,000 car accidents were documented. The study focused on collisions involving two cars resulting in a death. The data was refined further to include only collisions involving cars of similar size and type. In all, the final pool included more than 3,400 pairs of drivers.
Obesity was determined by body mass index (BMI), a measurement that takes both height and weight into account. As the level of obesity increased, so did the odds of dying in the collision. Compared to normal-weight drivers, those at the lowest level of obesity were 21 percent more likely to die, those at the next level were 51 percent more likely to die and those who were most obese were 80 percent more likely to die. Obese women had a greater risk of dying than obese men, the researchers noted, while underweight men were slightly more likely to die in a crash than normal-weight drivers. These risks remained even for drivers wearing seat belts and even when the airbag deployed, the authors noted.
Although the study found an association between obesity and death rates in car crashes, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
SOURCES: Thomas Rice, Ph.D., research epidemiologist, Safe Transportation Research & Education Center, University of California, Berkeley; David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, New Haven, Conn.; Jan. 21, 2013, Emergency Medicine Journal, online