Obese Likelier to Die in Car Accidents

Safety in cars is engineered for people of normal weight, not for those overweight.
Lawrence Manning/CORBIS

Further work is needed to explain the big differences, but the researchers noted that obese people suffer different injuries from normal-weight individuals in car accidents.

Data from intensive-care units say that obese patients tend to have more chest injuries and fewer head injuries, are likelier to have more complications, require longer hospital stays -- and are likelier to die of their injuries.

Another question is whether obese people properly use their seat belt, rather than leave it unbuckled or partially fastened because it is uncomfortable -- and whether safety designs in cars are flawed.

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Crash tests, conducted with cadavers, found that in a frontal collision, people of normal weight lurched forward slightly before the seat belt engaged the pelvis bone to prevent further movement, says the study.

But obese cadavers moved substantially forward from the seat, especially in the lower body. This was because abdominal fat acted as a spongy padding, slowing the time it took for the belt to tighten across the lap.

"The ability of passenger vehicles to protect overweight or obese occupants may have increasing important public health occupations," says the study, published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

In the United States, "currently more than 33 percent of adult men and 35 percent of adult women are obese," the paper notes.

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"It may be the case that passenger vehicles are well designed to protect normal-weight vehicle occupants but are deficient in protecting overweight or obese patients."

The final dataset used in the study entailed 3,403 pairs of drivers for whom data on weight, age, seatbelt use and airbag deployment were available.

Almost half of these drivers were of normal weight; one in three was overweight; and almost one in five (18 percent) was obese.

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