Obese Drivers More Likely to Die in Car Crash

car_accident_obesityFar from a simple cosmetic concern, obesity is a condition with significant health consequences. It is known that obesity can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and strokes – but a new study fron the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may add ‘death in a car accident’ to that list.  This new research indicates that obese people are significantly more likely to die in a car crash than people of normal weight. Using data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1996 to 2008, researchers found that the more obese a driver, the higher the risk of death in a collision. Specifically, they found that level 1 obese drivers (BMI 30.0–34.9) were 21% more likely to die; at level II (BMI 35.0–39.9) they were 50% more likely to do so; and at level III (BMI ≥ 40.0) they were 80% more likely to die than drivers of normal weight.

To determine this association, the researchers selected 403 pairs of drivers involved in a crash during the FARS reporting period, matched by similar car size and type. They sought out collisions in which two passenger vehicles were involved, and for which the impact of the crash was the most harmful component of the incident, resulting in the deaths of one or both drivers.  Of these drivers, almost half were of normal weight, almost a third were overweight, and one in five was obese.

Obese women fared the worst in the analysis; level 1 obese women were 36% more likely to die, and at levels II and III were about twice as likely to die. What is contributing to these deaths? One reason, the researchers say, is that there’s evidence that the lower body of an obese driver is propelled further forward on impact before the seatbelt engages the pelvis, due to the additional soft tissue which prevents the belt from fitting snugly, while the upper body is held back. The findings indicate that with roughly a third of the US adult population now obese, it may be time to consider whether car design might need to change to provide better protection in collisions. The findings were published online in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

We spoke with expert weight loss surgeon, Dr. Matthew Brengman of Advanced Surgical Partners of Virginia, about the study. He said, “These finding corroborate my personal experiences at the Maryland Shock Trauma Unit and during my time in Iraq.  Heavier patients in trauma have less distance from the hard surfaces in vehicles, put more stress on safety devices and are much more difficult to extricate from accident scenes than smaller people.  Once extricated, establishing an airway and IV access is much more difficult as BMI rises.  In weight loss surgery, we have the luxury of handling these variables in a highly controlled environment.  Through the use of proper tools and having expert providers immediately available, we can minimize or even eliminate these risks.” Unfortunately, in the trauma environment the patient doesn’t always have these resources available.  “We have made great strides in training and expertise in weight loss surgery.  Rather than build different cars, perhaps its time to bring the clinical expertise of weight loss surgery teams to the trauma environment,” Dr Brengman concluded.

Related Reading: Obesity Linked with Early Death in Women

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