A study by David Schlundt, associate professor of psychology and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University and his colleagues at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn revealed that obesity not only increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems, but also elevates the risk of a car accident due to reduced use of seatbelt.
"We found that when weight goes up, seatbelt use goes down. This is an additional public health problem associated with obesity that was not on the radar screen. We hope these new findings will help promote awareness campaigns to encourage people to use their seatbelts and that additional resources, like seatbelt extenders, will be made more readily available," said Schlundt.
Schlundt and his colleagues examined 2002 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, a telephone survey used to collect data on risky behaviors and health decisions associated with death.
The study found that approximately 30 percent of individuals with a body mass index (kilograms per meter squared) that qualified them as overweight, obese or extremely obese reported not using a seatbelt, compared to approximately 20 percent of the average population.
It was also found that seatbelt use declined as BMI increased; with approximately 55 percent of extremely obese individuals reporting they did not use a seatbelt.
"We know obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. We now know that increased risk of injury or death due to a car accident can be added to the list of risk associated with obesity," said Schlundt.
According to the authors, people with a high BMI do not use seatbelts because they find it uncomfortable.
"Efforts should be made to raise public awareness about seatbelt extender availability, and manufacturers not offering seatbelt extenders should be encouraged, or required, to make them available. Engineering solutions such as seatbelts with wider, more cushioned bands and greater adjustability may also be helpful by making seatbelts more comfortable for overweight and obese persons," the authors said.
The results were published in the journal Obesity.