Obese Less Likely to Wear Auto Seat Belts

Posted on Feb 11, 2008

Someone obese is less likely to use an automobile seat belt, says recent research. That’s not good news, considering over 50 percent of those killed in auto accidents were not wearing seat belts, according to the Associated Press.

The reason for declined seat belt use among the obese is size – not of the person but of the belt length.

Federal standards require seat belts accommodate a 215-pound passenger. Some manufacturers offer longer belts or those with extenders but some automakers worry about liability with the conversion-style belt.

According to research from Meharry Medical College (MMC) in Nashville, Tenn., 70 percent of obese passengers used a seat belt while 83 percent of average-weight passengers used them. MMC analyzed 250,000 telephone-response surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The same study determined seat belt use declined as “body mass index,” a component of height and weight, increased.

Peggy Howell, the public relations director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, said seat belts are uncomfortable for obese people. “I hate them because they seem to ride up and strangle me,” she said. "But I wear them for my own safety and because it is the law." Howell said people contact her advocacy group to get information on extenders for their vehicle seat belts.

Federal regulations governing seat belt dimensions do not consider “body mass index.” The standard stipulates seat belts must fit up to a 215-pound man who has a hip circumference of 47 inches while seated. That guideline was established in the 1960s.