Obese drivers use 1 billion extra gallons of gas yearly

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Fat car

A nation of motorists is gaining weight, and using more fuel as a result. Image: Charlie Brewer/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Americans have been steadily gaining weight over the last 50 years. That is not news, and the personal cost of carrying too much weight is well-documented. But in addition to an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, stroke and heart disease, a recent article pinpoints another cost: obese motorists consume more gasoline. With fuel costs hovering around the $4 mark, that may be enough to send many to the gym.

1 billion gallons a year

A recent article in The Atlantic concludes that Americans use at least 1 billion more gallons of gas per year than they did in 1960, when the average American weighed less.

Using numbers from a 2006 study on obesity and motoring habits, the recent article concludes that Americans consume 39 million gallons a year for each extra pound of human weight carried.

Expanding states

In 2006, more than 25 percent of the population was overweight in 21 states. In the six years since, that number has escalated to more than 35. More than a third of the population is obese in 12 of those states, and that number is likely to grow as well.

The most obese states in the nation are Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana, in that order. The least obese state, with only 18 percent of its populace overweight, is Colorado.

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Problem likely worse today

Because the figures it is dealing with are six years old, the article acknowledges that obese American motorists now probably consume more than 1 billion extra gallons of gas annually.

Other factors

The nation’s infatuation with SUVs in the early 2000s helped only to exacerbate the situation.

A study last month conducted by students and researchers at College@Home found that lengthy commutes are also part of the problem. The study concluded that every 10 minutes spent on the daily commute increases the risk of obesity, elevated cholesterol and spinal pain. It also found that, as people become increasingly more dependent on their automobiles, these risks increase.

Redefinition of overweight

According to the Seattle Times, the definition of “overweight” was changed by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in 1998. Previously, people with a body mass index of 27 were considered overweight. Now, that BMI is 25. Therefore, it is logical to assume that the pre-1998 obesity figures used in the article were based on the old definition, making the results somewhat less acute than it concludes. However, there is still little doubt that we are getting fatter nationally and globally.

The bigger picture

According to the Atlantic article, at current prices, obese American motorists spend an extra $3.87 billion at the gas pumps annually. With fuel supplies and cost a major issue nationally and globally, it is clear to see that the cost of obesity is far greater than just what is recorded in any individual’s  bankbook.


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The Atlantic 
The Seattle Times 


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