No one should be surprised that obesity is a condition of great concern in countries that follow the traditional western lifestyle, chief among them the United States. The costs and health concerns are far-reaching, and according to recent research, extend to the increased likelihood of death in auto accidents in the obese.
Dr. Thomas M. Rice, research epidemiologist at the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, Safe Transportation and Education Center at the University of California in Berkeley, Calif., and Dr. Motao Zhu, of the Department of Epidemiology & Injury Control Research Center at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, W. Va., reviewed data from traffic fatalities from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the period 1996 through 2007.
Because few studies had been undertaken to determine injury outcomes for obese people involved in traffic accidents, Rice and Zhu undertook the research, published Jan. 21 in the Emergency Medicine Journal, an internationally recognized peer-reviewed journal. This research sought to determine to association between obesity and the risk of death of drivers in auto accidents in obese people age 16 years and older, taking into account variables such as seat belt use, vehicle and collision types and sex of the driver.
Research Outcomes Revealing
The use or disuse of seat belts, vehicle type or collision type did not meaningful affect the risk of death in a traffic collision, but obesity did: Obese drivers in traffic accidents were found to be up to 80 percent more at risk of death than people who are not obese. Another category -- underweight drivers -- were found to have a slightly increased risk of death in passenger vehicle collisions over drivers of weights within normal ranges.
What Do the Research Results Mean for the Future?
With almost 36 percent of American adults rated as obese and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years old also obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these research results are a call to auto manufacturers and safety engineers to address the issue of an obese population in passenger vehicles.
Keshia Pollack, associate professor at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, explained to USAToday.com that more research is needed for experts to understand the dynamics of how bodies react in a crash, mentioning that larger crash-test dummies may be used in future testing.
Another consideration is that some obese drivers fail to use seat belts, at least partially due to the use of the safety devices are uncomfortable for them to wear. Pollack said research could aid in the development of more comfortable and better fitting seat belts.
As if we, the overweight and obese individuals, didn't already have enough reasons to be motivated to become healthier -- the threat of chronic health conditions -- now have one more reason to modify our lifestyles.
Beyond the personal impact of these research findings, what other things may change due to outcome? Perhaps seat belts will become more comfortable to use. Perhaps child safety seats will need to be changed or improved. Maybe auto insurance rates will increase for overweight or obese drivers. Or just maybe, we will heed yet another warning to take our health more seriously.