Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths 56 percent Higher from Obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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New findings show severe motor vehicle crashes are 56 percent more likely to kill obese Americans, adding to other known health risks.

The findings have prompted researchers to suggest new car designs that protect Americans with expanding waistlines
The researchers say motor vehicle safety tests are done on adults who are normal weight. Because America’s obesity rate has increased, the authors say, “there could be further improvements in vehicle design that could decrease mortality.”

Dietrich Jehle, MD, professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and at Erie County Medical Center, first author on the study says, "We also recommend that manufacturers design and test vehicle interiors with obese dummies, which currently are not available, in addition to testing with the 50 percentile (BMI 24.3) male dummy," he adds. "It would improve safety for the one-third of the U.S. population that is obese. For underweight and normal weight individuals, placing airbags within the seat belt also might be protective."

The study found morbid obesity raises the chances of dying in a severe motor vehicle crash by 56 percent. For moderately obese individuals, the risk increases 21 percent compared to slightly overweight people.

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A finding the researchers say is interesting was those who are underweight or normal weight also are at higher risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident. Being slightly overweight seems to offer protection with current care safety designs.

The findings come from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System database (FARS) that investigated the rates of fatality. Inclusion in the reporting system is defined as “a vehicle traveling on a roadway customarily open to the public and must result in the death of an occupant of a vehicle or a non-motorist." In the current study, 155,584 adults met criteria for the study that found the increased chances of dying in a car wreck from being obese.

The fatality risk data include SUV’s trucks, vans and autos involved in one or two car accidents between 2000 and 2005. The scientists separated the subjects into underweight, normal, overweight, slightly obese, moderately obese and morbidly obese categories.

The authors say the findings show obesity substantially increases the risk of dying from a severe motor vehicle crash, compared to normal weight individuals. The risk was also higher for people underweight and normal weight, while mild obesity seems to be protective. Included were those who died 30 days after a motor vehicle crash from surgery or other injury related cause.

American Journal of Emergency Medicine
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.10.017

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