Study of the Day: Why Obese Drivers Are Less Likely to Survive a Car Crash

New research suggests that overweight and obese drivers may find it more difficult to buckle up a standard seatbelt.

Study of the Day
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PROBLEM: Two years ago, University at Buffalo researchers led by Dietrich Jehle found that morbidly obese drivers are 56 percent more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than people of normal weight.

METHODOLOGY: To uncover why obese drivers are at increased risk of dying in a car crash, the same group of investigators analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which tracks motor vehicle crashes and numerous variables about the collisions, including seatbelt use. They looked at 336,913 drivers who were in a severe crash between 2003 and 2009 where a death occurred, and classified their weight status using their body mass indices.

RESULTS: Drivers of normal weight are 67 percent more likely to wear a seatbelt than morbidly obese drivers.

CONCLUSION: Obese drivers appear to be at increased risk of dying in a car crash compared to normal-weight drivers because they are far less likely to wear seatbelts.

IMPLICATION: More than a third of adults in the U.S. are considered obese, and they may find it more difficult to buckle up a standard seatbelt. The authors write in a statement: "Automobile manufacturers need to investigate methods of making seatbelt use easier for the obese driver in order to save lives in this population."

SOURCE: The full study, "Obesity and Seatbelt Use: A Fatal Relationship," was presented today at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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