Heavier Drivers Consume More Fuel
Study Shows Increasing Rate of Obesity Decreases Automobile Fuel Efficiency
Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006
The rising incidence of
obesity in the United States doesn't just lead to diabetes, high blood pressure
and elevated cholesterol, it also increases fuel consumption in passenger
vehicles, according to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University and the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Americans have gained an
average of 24 pounds since 1960, and that has resulted in an extra 938 million
gallons of fuel consumed annually, according to the study, which will be posted
online in the October-December issue of The Engineering Economist journal.
The researchers, Laura
A. McLay, Ph.D., an assistant professor in VCU's Department of Statistical
Sciences and Operations Research, and Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of
computer science and director of the simulation and optimization laboratory at
UIUC, based their conclusions on data collected from the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services for the period covering 1960 to 2002.
The calculations were
based on non-commercial, passenger vehicles -- cars and light trucks -- and
ruled out factors that would decrease fuel efficiency such as increasing the
cargo weight or decreased maintenance.
"The key finding is that
nearly 1 billion gallons of fuel are consumed each year because of the average
weight gain of people living in the United States since 1960 -- nearly three
times the total amount of fuel consumed by all passenger vehicles each day
based on current driving habits," McLay and Jacobson wrote. "Moreover, it is
estimated that over 39 million gallons of fuel are consumed annually for every
one pound increase in average passenger weight.
"Although the amount of
fuel consumed as a result of the rising prevalence of obesity is small compared
to the increase in the amount of fuel consumed stemming from other factors such
as increased car reliance and an increase in the number of drivers … it still
represents a large amount of fuel, and will become even more significant as the
rate of obesity increases," according to the study.
The study reports that in
2002, an estimated 65 percent of Americans were overweight, and more than 30
percent were considered obese, defined as having a body mass index of more than
The research was funded
by the National Science Foundation.
About VCU and the VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.