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Obesity may not count as a cushion in a car crash

April 4, 2010 |  6:00 am

Some people believe obesity provides a cushioning effect in car crashes, with the extra padding helping to protect people against severe trauma. A few researchers set out to see if that's true, using crash test dummies in simulated frontal crashes.

Kybqgenc But they didn't use just any crash test dummies. The researchers used three obese and five normal-weight cadavers, since, according to the study, obese crash test dummies don't exist. Who knew?

The dummies were put into a simulated mid-size car that crashed at about 30 mph, to see how they responded to the force. The obese test subjects, who wore seat belts but had no air bags, had greater maximum forward pitch than their non-obese counterparts before being stopped by the seat belt.

Also, parts of their body experienced different trajectories--the obese dummies' hips slid forward more, allowing their torsos to not fall forward as much. That may protect obese people's heads from hitting the inside of the car, but may also cause more injury to the ribs and lungs, since the load is concentrated on the lower part of the thorax, closer to the abdomen. Since the hips move forward more, the lower extremities might also be more vulnerable.

So no, obese people don't seem to have a definite advantage in car crashes. In another study, obese men had worse outcomes in sustaining upper body injuries in car crashes versus normal-weight men. So buckle up, everyone.

The study, done by researchers at the University of Virginia and Autoliv Inc. in Sweden, appears in the April issue of the journal Obesity.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Thomas Whisenand / AP

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