I never would have guessed that a few extra pounds of flesh can have such a strong effect on fuel economy:
A new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that 938 million more gallons of gasoline go into vehicles annually because drivers and passengers are considerably heavier today than in 1960.
"Our nation's hunger for food and our nation's hunger for oil are not independent," said computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson, who co-wrote the study scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of the Engineering Economist.
The project, which looked only at noncommercial travel, was based on the simple fact that heavier cars use more gas.
"We took today's cars and driving habits, and substituted people of average weight in 1960," said coauthor Laura McLay, who was a doctoral student working with Jacobson and now is an assistant professor of statistical science at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I was surprised at the impact."
In 1960, the average adult male weighed 166 pounds and the female tipped the scale at 140. In 2002, those averages were 191 and 164, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Jacobson, who has done numerous studies of how engineering principles can be applied to health issues, said the research wasn't meant to be nagging.
"There are many health benefits for losing weight," he said. "An unexpected benefit is that we would use less fuel."
If one takes the line that fatter people are lazier, the gas used is even more than that amount from cruising around parking lots looking for the closest space and time spent idling in drive throughs because it's too much effort to get out of the car.