Wednesday, 09 May 2012 01:19
May 9, 2012
A growing number of engineers and officials are studying the effects of the nation's expanding waistlines on jet liner safety.
The obesity rate in the U.S. has soared over the past half century. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes 35.7 percent of all U.S. adults as obese, which is a measurement of body fat. The number of obese people throughout the U.S. has increased at such a torrid pace that public health campaigns have failed to have a significant impact on slowing the epidemic.
In 2000, for instance, no state had an obesity prevalence of 30 percent or more, according to CDC data. However, by 2010, 12 states had surpassed that critical threshold. What's more, no state has been capable of reducing its obesity rate to 15 percent, underscoring the challenges officials and scientists face as they endeavor to slow a public health crisis.
The uptick in obesity prevalence has had unforeseen consequences. While analysts had long projected healthcare costs would concurrently rise, scientists are increasingly warning about the potential dangers posed in a number of other, seemingly unconnected industries. The New York Times reports that experts have grown progressively concerned about how obese passengers could impact aircraft safety.
The federal government established standards for the strength of airplane seats and seat belts more than 60 years ago. According to government data collected between 1960 and 1962, the mean weight for a male between the ages of 20 and 74 was 166.3 pounds. For females, that figure was estimated at 140.2 pounds. However, the average American male now weighs roughly 194 pounds, while the average woman registers at 165 pounds.
The government last mandated that jet liner seats be designed for a person with an average weight of 170 pounds. As a result of such a disconnect, engineering research has increasingly set out to determine whether the safety of carriers' jets is at stake, according to the Times.
Robert Salzar, the principal scientist at the University of Virginia's Center for Applied Biomechanics, said that the engineering tools used to develop aircraft should be reconsidered.
"If a heavier person completely fills a seat, the seat is not likely to behave as intended during a crash," he said. "The energy absorption that is built into the aircraft seat is likely to be overwhelmed and the occupants will not be protected optimally."
Moreover, he asserted that the safety of other passengers could be impacted. Engineer Yoshihiro Ozawa echoed such concerns, contending that using heavier crash dummies in safety testing would help conclusively prove whether modern aircraft safety precautions are effective.
"If we don't test with heavier dummies, we won't know if it is safe enough," Ozawa warned. "There is no regulation that says they have to test for heavier."
Still, the government has overhauled some of its policies in an effort to address such concerns. The Federal Aviation Administration increased the average weight of male and female passengers in 2005, figures it uses when estimating the total weight and balance of each flight. Critics, though, said that the government should revisit its guidelines established more than six decades ago.
Aside from the strength and size of an aircraft's seats, experts said that seatbelts could also pose problems for larger passengers. Those classified as obese are at an increased risk for death in severe automobile crashes, according to the news provider, as they are less likely to wear seatbelts.
As safety experts and engineers continue to push for more testing, they are increasingly working to lobby public officials to support changes in the classification of passenger weights.