Dr. David Schlundt pinpoints another obesity-related problem
We all know the health dangers associated with obesity, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, and a whole host of other health calamities. But now researchers out of Vanderbilt University have stumbled upon another unexpected side effect of the overweight and obese population that is likely being overlooked by a lot of statisticians: automobile accident injuries and death.
Lead researcher Dr. David G. Schlundt, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the Nashville, TN-based Vanderbilt University, hypothesized that the use of seat belts among the obese was likely less than their non-obese counterparts because of a variety of concerns, not the least of which is the comfort of use. He wanted to test this theory against hard data regarding BMI rates to calculate the rate of seat belt use among the increasing degrees of obesity.
Using existing data from the Center For Disease Control's 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, Dr. Schlundt and his team of researchers implemented a multivariable logistic regression to determine the seat belt use among the following groups split up according to their BMI:
- OVERWEIGHT (BMI 25.0-29.9)
- OBESE (BMI 30.0-39.9)
- EXTREMELY OBESE (BMI 40.0+)
These statistics were compared with the non-overweight/non-obese (BMI below 24.9) and the numbers were adjusted for age, race, gender, education, and the individual state seat belt laws. According to what Dr. Schlundt found, here was the breakdown of seat belt use among the various categories of people according to their weight:
- NON-OBESE 82.6 percent
- OVERWEIGHT 80.1 percent
- OBESE 76.6 percent
- EXTREMELY OBESE 69.8 percent
The researchers found that women especially were discouraged from seat belt use the higher their BMI was, but they noted an increase in seat belt use the older they got, the more education they received, and in states that have a secondary seat belt law in place legally requiring it. The conclusion of Dr. Schlundt and his team was that obesity now can lead to reckless behavior when the obese get behind the wheel of an automobile.
"Lack of seat belt can be added to the list of risk factors associated with obesity," the researchers contended. "Effective preventive interventions are needed to promote seatbelt use among overweight and obese persons."
This study was published in the November 2007 issue of the journal Obesity.
When I was researching this study, I couldn't help but think about that scene in the Eddie Murphy movie called Norbit where one of his characters named Rasputia, an ornery 300+ pound monster of a woman, was trying to get inside of her car and her stomach was so big she was pushing up against the car horn. This wouldn't be so funny if it didn't have at least an ounce of truth to it:
Yes, that makes for a good laugh scene in Hollywood, but for some people this is no laughing matter. I can remember vividly weighing over 400 pounds with the seat as far back as it could go and my stomach would STILL touch the steering wheel. I always joked with my wife Christine that I could drive with no hands and it was quite embarrassing. And let's not even talk about how I got in and out of the car (bad memories, bad memories!).
When I was morbidly obese at 400+ pounds (my BMI was around 52 at my highest weight), I absolutely HATED with a passion having to wear a seat belt. It really got to the point that I refused to wear one because it rubbed up against me in ways I couldn't tolerate and the stupid thing never seemed to fit right no matter what I did. Well duh, it's not made for a gargantuan man with a 62-inch waist wearing 5XL shirts and with a stomach looking like I was carrying quintuplets!
Then, an event happened in August 2003 that was likely the thing that set the wheels in motion for me to start livin' la vida low-carb--although that was the furthest thing from my mind at the time. This really shook me into reality about my increasing weight problem in the Fall 2003 and in hindsight I'm thankful it happened.
My wife's grandfather had died suddenly and we traveled to Virginia to be with the family for the burial. It was about an hour until the funeral when Christine remembered she left a picture she drew to place inside the casket with her grandpa at her parent's house about a mile away from her grandmother's home. The limousine was scheduled to pick us up within a few minutes, so I told Christine I'd hop in the car and go get the picture for her.
So I drove to my in-law's house, grabbed the picture, and started heading back when suddenly it happened--SCCCCCRRREEEEEECH...CRASH!!! A man driving an SUV with his wife and kids ran a stop sign and I swerved off the road to avoid hitting them. My Ford Escort then made a beeline for a tree hitting it head-on at about 35 mph. I'll never forget three memories from that day when the car came to a stop.
1. I couldn't breathe at all and was in severe pain across my chest.
2. The horn was stuck and blared loudly throughout the neighborhood.
3. I knew I would miss saying goodbye to Christine's grandpa.
As the white dust from the air bag filled the car, I immediately opened the door so I could try to get some air. I recall taking the seat belt loose (thankfully, I was wearing one that day!), putting my feet outside the door, and standing up dizzily looking for help. The man who ran the stop sign called for an ambulance and he asked me if I wanted to borrow his cell phone to call someone. I was so disoriented from the crash that I couldn't remember grandma's phone number. I leaned up against my car and finally the number came to me. I reached Christine's dad.
A neighbor who heard all the commotion came over to turn off my very annoying horn which was making my headache ten thousand times worse and my father-in-law was there in mere moments. He's a police officer, so he is familiar with coming on scenes like this quite often in his line of duty. I can remember him asking me if I needed him to stay with me, but I knew going to his father-in-law's funeral was important to him. I wasn't bleeding anywhere, but a couple of my fingers were twisted and my entire chest and stomach was one big contusion. When the ambulance arrived to pick me up, I rode to the hospital alone and told him to get to the funeral. I'm glad he did.
Within a couple of hours, I was in and out of the emergency room with some minor injuries considering the accident. But even with the seat belt on, I sustained a lasting impression on the front of my body that took several months to heal. Looking down at my big blob of blubber with my man boobs and oversized keg of a stomach every morning that literally turned every shade of black, blue, purple and green was enough to make me wanna get rid of that ugly sight forever. It would only be a matter of months before I decided to go on the Atkins diet that would change my life forever.
With around 3 million injuries and a total of 42,000 deaths that happen annually as a result of car crashes in the U.S., this new research shines a bright light on an issue that should capture the attention of anyone who is obese--currently estimated at close to 60 million Americans. Seat belts have been shown to reduce the rate of injury and/or death by as much as 50 percent, so this is a rather alarming trend that should be a major motivating factor for anyone carrying around extra pounds around their waistline to do something about it. If you can't wear the seat belt in your car, then something bad is wrong that needs addressing! And it's not your seat belt!
Many car companies make seat belt extenders that are very low-cost for their customers to use, so take advantage of that while you can. By all mean, don't let your pride get in the way of your personal safety in your automobible. More than anything, though, you really need to find a weight loss plan that will work for you and then DO IT! Whether it is low-fat, low-carb, vegan, or whatever, just choose one and GO FOR IT! Pick a plan, follow it precisely, and never give up on it. That's what will melt the pounds away and get you on the right path for your weight and health.
Even Dr. Schlundt admits there is no direct correlation found between having a higher body weight and seat belt use, but from a practical standpoint as a former 400-pounder who has been there--it's undeniable! And even WITH a seat belt, you can still get injured pretty badly just like I did. I took gobs of pain pills (and I NEVER like taking medicine of ANY kind) and couldn't get up out of a chair by myself for about two months...and that was WHILE WEARING A SEAT BELT! Losing weight wasn't just an option for me after this accident, but rather a real necessity. I wonder if I would have been as gung ho about livin' la vida low-carb had it not been for this accident. Who knows? But I'm glad it happened--er, sorta. :)
You can e-mail Dr. David Schlundt about his research at David.Schlundt@Vanderbilt.Edu.