Crash Test Dummies Getting Bigger to Reflect America’s Growing Waistline

fat man looking ashamed hiding his face

Safety is a big deal in the automotive industry, and crash test dummies are getting heavier as a result. Obesity in America has created a need for larger crash test dummies to reduce the risk of death for overweight automobile drivers and passengers.

Instead of being a svelte 170 pounds, the company that makes crash test dummies has upped its game—and the caloric intake. Some dummies now weigh more than 270 pounds, with bigger midsections to reflect America’s growing waistline. They still provide the same information such as measuring belt and airbag loads, but show the differences between fit and heavyset when jettisoned into an object. Some of the newer models of crash test dummies, which can cost as much as $500,000, have more than 130 channels of information.

Chris O’Connor is the CEO of Humanetics, the company that produces the faux humans filled with sensors that deliver lifesaving feedback for the automotive and aerospace industry. He says that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in an automobile crash.

The move by his company reflects the growing American population, as in growing out, not growing in numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average weight of a man is 195.5 pounds, and a woman 166.2. That’s more than 25 pounds heavier than the CDC reported for both genders in 1962.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2011-12, found that 33.6 percent of Americans over age 20 were overweight, and of those, 34.9 percent were obese and 6.4 percent extremely obese. Overweight was defined as having a body mass index between 25 and 29.9 kilograms per meter, and extremely obese as having a BMI of 40 and above. Twenty-five kilograms is 55.1 pounds.

Two decades ago, in a survey period from 1988 to 1994, 33.3 percent of Americans were overweight, with 22.9 percent obese and 2.8 percent extremely obese.

From 1999 to 2012, male waistlines expanded from 37.6 inches to 38.8, while women grew from 36.3 to 37.8 inches.

Abdominal obesity is defined as having a waist of 40.2 inches or more in men, 34.6 inches in women.

Some of the new dummies have a body mass of 35, which is a fairly accurate depiction of couch potatoes.

In addition to the health benefits of losing weight and being trim, there’s another benefit, especially for travelers who aren’t using automobiles.

While crash test dummies are getting bigger, airline seats are getting smaller. The move toward slimline seating puts further pressure on passengers to trim down if they want to avoid the elevated stress of being packed like a sardine.

In addition to genetics and the use of certain medications linked to weight gain, there are many reasons suspected for the increased girth of Americans, ranging from simple overindulgence to eating disorders. About 24 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder.

People with extra weight around the midsection are at a greater risk for heart disease, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

And dying in a car crash.

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