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Fat Guys Come with Their Own Air Bags

August 15, 2010

It seems the information piles up daily to tell us how horrible the rising obesity epidemic is. One study after another tells of the negative consequences of eating highly processed food, or that sitting for long periods increases your death risk. Even First Lady Michele Obama keeps telling us how we need to eat better and move more.

Then, a glimmer of light in the darkness puts a positive spin on being overweight. Researchers at the University of Michigan have determined that fat men have a better chance of surviving a car crash because they have, um, “extra cushioning.” (Hat tip to my friend Lance King for posting a link to a news report on the study.) They also have to be wearing a seat belt…provided they can get one around them (insert rim shot).

The study, released earlier this year, found that belted male drivers with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 to 50 have a 22 percent lower chance of dying in a car crash than belted drivers who are underweight — that is they have a BMI between 15 and 18.4. For men who don’t wear seat belts, the opposite is true. The probability of being killed in  a crash is 10 percent higher for unbelted male drivers with a BMI between 35 and 50 than for those in the 15 to 18.4 range.

The study made no mention of men who wear Sansabelt slacks, however.

For ladies, though, the news isn’t quite as bright. Women with a BMI of 35 to 50 who wear seat belts have a 10 percent higher likelihood of dying in a crash than women with a “normal” BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9. Underweight women (BMI of 15 to 18.4) have an eight percent higher risk of dying in a crash than the normal group as well.

Why difference in the risk for men and women? Researchers believe there may be an “optimal balance” between the extra cushioning on a fat guy and the mass and momentum of an accident. Guys in the 35 to 50 BMI range are heavier than women in the same range, and the extra weight, combined with wearing a seat belt may make all the difference. Overweight guys who don’t wear seatbelts may “overload” airbags, making them ineffective at preventing injuries.

Whatever the cause for the difference, researchers suggest that the designs of airbags, safety belts, knee restraints, seats and other components of occupant-restraint systems may need to be improved to better protect drivers and their passengers at both extremes of BMI.

Odds are, a “heavy-duty” safety package will come with a premium sticker price.

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