PARIS–Obese people face a much higher risk — of up to 80 percent — of dying in a car collision compared with people of normal weight, researchers reported Monday in a specialist journal. The cause could be that safety in cars is engineered for people of normal weight, not for the obese, they said. Transport safety scientists Thomas Rice of the University of California at Berkeley and Motao Zhu of the University of West Virginia delved into a U.S. databank on road accidents, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. They dug out data from 1996 to 2008, covering more than 57,000 collisions that involved two cars. This was whittled down to cases in which both parties involved in the collision had been driving vehicles of similar size and types. The team then compared the risk of fatality against the victim’s estimated body mass index (BMI), a benchmark of fat, which is calculated by taking one’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by one’s height in meters squared. An adult with a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered of normal weight. Below this is considered underweight. Between 25.0 and 29.9 is considered overweight; and 30.0 or above is obese. The researchers found an increase in risk of 19 percent for underweight drivers compared with counterparts of normal weight. For those with BMI of 30 to 34.9, the increased risk was 21 percent; for BMI of 35-39.9, it was 51 percent; and for the extremely obese, with BMI of 40 or above, it was 80 percent. Obese women were at even greater risk. Among those in the 35-39.9 BMI category, the risk of death was double compared with people of normal weight.
The estimates were made after potentially confounding factors — age and alcohol use, for instance — were taken into account.
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.