Fat People Cause Global Warming, Raise Cost of Fuel, Etc.


Let me begin with a heartfelt, personal message:  I’m only the messenger, please don’t kill me.

That said, I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel of racing karts or riding up and down South Florida beach towns on small, 50 cc scooters to tell you that the weight of the rider can make a big difference in the overall performance of a given vehicle, and 150 lbs. gets down the road a lot quicker than 200 lbs. (I know, I’ve been both).  Still, when I read the headline “Are Fat People Driving Up the Price of Gas?  Are They the Source of the Greenhouse Effect?” over on The Truth About Cars (TTAC) blog, it seemed a bit … what’s the word?  Sensationalist.

I do enjoy tabloid journalism, however, so I clicked the little (Read More …) link and got to reading.

It turns out, the heavy lifting was done by a Washington think-tank called Resources for the Future (RFF), who examined ““the unexplored link between the prevalence of overweight and obesity and vehicle demand”.  Which is the long version of “bigger people buy bigger cars“, which seems pretty obvious.

What isn’t immediately obvious, however, is exactly how much of an impact rampant obesity has on something like the price of fuel.  According to the RFF, a 10 % increase in the rate of obesity reduces the average mpg of new vehicles demanded by 2.5 %, resulting in increased demand and a $0.30 cent increase in gas prices to counteract and millions of excess tons of carbon emissions.  The whys and hows of those numbers are detailed in the RFF’s report (titled “Lose Some, Save Some: Obesity, Automobile Demand, and Gasoline Consumption in the U.S.“), which also correlates the market share of pickups and light trucks with the percentage of overweight/obese people in the population (from 1960-2006).

As TTAC points out, the study is a bit dated (it was initially published in 2009) but its implications are still timely and relevant, especially when one considers the millions of dollars in research monies being given to companies like Lotus to specifically research the methods, costs, and benefits involved in making cars lighter.

TTAC’s Bertel Schmitt does an excellent job of summing up the rest of the article (while deftly avoiding childish “all things being equal, fat people use more soap” jokes), so you have your choice:  CLICK HERE to read TTAC’s summary, or CLICK HERE to download the entire 34-page PDF document (complete with bibliography, sources, etc.).

Source:  Resources for the Future, via The Truth About Cars.
Photo CreditGilles Klein, under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
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  • T

    Go green – get lean!

    (that’s on the house)

  • Lee

    As a bigger person, I agree with this only in part. Obviously, weight requires more fuel to be consumed and stronger safety equipment to deal with a larger person add to their already higher weight, but things like required horsepower, load ratings and breaking power are usually designed with several people in mind so the typical carload of one or two people should be manageable in most situations.

    The larger impact is that the way smaller cars are designed, leads larger people into far larger cars than they needed. Even if not obese, many small cars lack specific areas of ergonomic flexibility that could allow much larger drivers and passengers. A typical culprit overly wide consoles that create a situation where larger drivers are limited by door or b-pillar. Similarly, longer seat rails would accomodate taller drivers.

    In both cases, there may be feet of physical space available but manufacturers decide not design the cars in manners to take advantage of it. The result is that some larger drivers end up with full-sized cars and trucks only to commute in. In my case, 6’6″ and over 300lbs, I drive a 2006 Mercury Montego over smaller cars mostly in order to have enough shoulder room.

  • Susanna Schick

    not to mention the CO2 & Methane produced by the cattle industry that feeds them. Seriously America. You’ve got a problem. It’s time for an intervention.

  • Ah disagree. Ah believe (burp) that it’s all the gubmint’s fault (brrrap), ‘s’cuse me…that it’s all the gubmint’s fault fer lettin’ all these fer’ners in here tellin’ us whut ta do! Whut we need (burp, *snarf*, belch), ‘s’cuse me, is to tell them all t’ git the hell outta muh cuntry and let good, decent (belch, fart, *brrraaap!*), ‘s’cuse me,…let good decent, god-ferin’ people back to doin’ things they way they useta git done.
    Now, if’n y’all ‘s’cuse me, ah got ta git back to mah peanut butter-fried steaks. (BERRRRRRP, belch, fart, *POOT!*, brappppp). ‘S’cuse me…

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  • ASG

    Although the physics makes sense: more weight, more resistance, more fuel required. I have to note that @ 6’8″ 245 my BMI says ‘obese’ yet I’m only 15lbs heavier than my college playing weight. When my wife and I wanted to reduce our car footprint a few years back, I was able to eliminate all but 2 four door sedans based on the legroom/headroom & >25mpg requirements: Honda Accord & Pontiac G6. So glad we chose the Honda. Second, we ski so a AWD/4WD car is required. Guess what cars fit my shoulder/headroom dimensions: Chevy Tahoe/Suburban; Ford Expedition/Excursion. That’s it. No Subaru AWD options fit. And don’t even get me talking about Hybrids.

    I test drove the Leaf, and it fits! Woohoo! Hopefully the Tesla S does as well, because 100mi range is not enough to ditch the Accord…

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