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The Affect of Obesity on Car Accident Victims

The findings of a recent study tend to contradict the popular notion that having a little excess bulk around the joints should actually protect you in a collision. Up until now, most people who considered the links between obesity and car accidents (if anyone really considered it at all) probably thought that the pointed areas of the human skeleton, such as the pelvic bone and sternum, would receive some degree of protection with a little extra “padding” surrounding these areas.

BMI is a rough way of determining obesity

Here’s something else that may surprise you. Many athletes, and particularly bodybuilders, who haven’t got an ounce of fat anywhere under their taut skin would be considered obese if the popular formula for measuring Body Mass Index (BMI) is used.

Another popular method of determining if someone is obese is if their waist measurement is over 37 inches for a man or 34 inches for a woman, they are considered obese. But how exactly do obesity and car accidents come together in these equations?

The 2010 study by the Injury Research Center, Medical College of Wisconsin used simple and straightforward methods to determine whether a person was likely to suffer injuries to a greater or lesser degree if they are obese. To keep the initial part of the study simple, the researchers looked only at:

  • Front end collisions
  • The effects on drivers and passengers only 18 years of age and older
  • The BMI of vehicle occupants and the severity of their injuries
  • Researchers then broke down the types of injuries into the following body areas:
    • Head and face
    • Thorax
    • Abdomen
    • Spine
    • Upper extremities (hands and arms)
    • Lower extremities (feet and legs)

This left the researchers with 10,000 cases to analyze involving real, live people. They then went to the second level and employed crash test dummies, which were divided into three groups each for male and female—obese, average and light. The female dummies were shorter and lighter, and the rest of the breakdown was:

  • Obese dummies had either a 30 or 35 BMI.
  • Standard weight dummies had a BMI of 25.
  •  Very light dummies had a BMI of just 22, which would only represent about 5 percent of the population.

The findings

The researchers analyzed all the data collected to determine any correlation between obesity and car accidents. The results made for surprising reading. Just some of the findings include:

  • The further above 30 that a man’s BMI goes, the risk of serious injury goes up dramatically.
  • The risk of severe spinal injuries skyrockets once a man’s BMI passes 30.
  • Men with a BMI greater than 30 were far more likely to suffer severe injuries in a car crash than men with a lower BMI in the areas of:
    • Face
    • Head
    • Chest
    • Spine
  • In women, the greatest increased danger from a higher BMI seems to be in severe injuries to the face.
  • The likelihood of injuries to the head, thorax and spine of women with a higher BMI does not increase to the same degree as men.
  • There’s a huge increase in the risk of severe abdominal injuries to women with either very low BMI (22 or less) or very high BMI (39 or higher). Researchers say that very thin women don’t have enough padding (a major function of fat) to protect their abdomens in a crash, while severely overweight women have too much momentum generated by their extra bulk in a collision, putting greater stress on internal organs and cancelling out the benefits of extra padding.

Why the big differences between men and women?

Obesity and car accidents seem to lead to different results in men and women, and researchers couldn’t come up with any absolute, definitive reasons why. They speculated, however, that the distribution of body fat is different between the sexes, as well as general body shapes and centers of gravity.

The center of gravity argument carries the most weight, if you’ll pardon the expression. Men have a higher center of gravity, which means that in a crash, the upper body is going to move forward with greater force and more speed than women with an equal BMI but a lower center of gravity. It is that extra speed and force that causes the real damage.

Men are also, on average, taller than women, so carrying more weight higher up on the body could also contribute to more serious injuries than shorter women carrying the weight lower down.

As disappointing as it may sound, it would appear that obesity and car accidents can now officially be linked to more severe injuries than for thinner people in crashes; as if they didn’t already have enough going for them!

It’s important to remember, however, that whatever your BMI, if you’ve been injured in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you shouldn’t have to bear the financial and physical burdens of those injuries. The at-fault driver and his insurance companies should be held liable for any medical expenses you incur, as well as loss of income from missing work, pain and suffering and any future treatment or care you may require. Contact a really good Portland car accident attorney if you have any questions about your rights after an accident. The consultation is free, and they can guide you through the entire process of filing a personal injury claim.