Yes, and yes, says a study of the Resources for the Future (RFF) institute. The Washington think tank’s study examined “the unexplored link between the prevalence of overweight and obesity and vehicle demand” for bigger and more gas guzzling cars.
RFF brands itself as a “nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research.” Their study found “that the prevalence of overweight and obesity has a sizable effect on the fuel economy of new vehicles demanded. A 10 percentage point increase in the rate of overweight and obesity among the population reduces the average miles per gallon (MPG) of new vehicles demanded by 2.5 percent, an effect that requires a 30 cent increase in gasoline prices to counteract.” Basically what they are saying: Fat people choose fat cars. More fat people, more fat cars.
Shame on you if your belly keeps you from reading the numbers on the bathroom scale, you are driving up the cost of our gas, fatso. If you would eat less, we would pay less. If the study is correct.
The study is a bit dated (August 2009), and with names such as Shanjun Li, Yanyan Liu, and Junjie Zhang, the authors of the study may be a bit biased. Alternating between China and Japan, most foreigners (myself included) appear fat to me, or debu-debu as they say in Japan. I stumbled across this study because of the serendipity of two stories that appeared this weekend.
The top story of Automotive News [sub] is “Ford leads the way as automakers embrace weight-loss.” In their cars, not amongst their customers. “Weight is absolutely critical,” said Ford CEO Alan Mulally for saving gas and in order to reach CAFE rules that require a fleet average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. There already is talk about a 62-mpg target for 2025. Ford’s diet regimen clashes with another trend.
Over at AOL Autos, there is an article titled “Super Size Me? How About My Car?” It muses about the buying habits of the Generation XXL: “Extra-large Americans get up and go to work like anyone else and they need vehicles to get them there and back. Is the auto industry paying attention?” In that story, interviewed carmakers deny that they target obese people per se. Instead, they indeed pay attention to what the customer wants. “We’re finding that people say, ‘We want more space,’” said Sage Marie, Manager of Honda Product Planning.
If people want bigger cars, they get bigger cars. AOL Autos complains that there are “few reliable statistics on which cars are most accommodating for larger people.” As we soon shall see, they did not look hard enough. All AOL found was a list compiled last year by Consumer Reports that recommends “several good cars that are best for larger drivers,” as CR said.
Oddly enough, the cars all hail from the lands of lithe, from Japan and Korea:
|Make/model||Price||CR overall mpg|
|Subaru Forester XT Limited||$28,860||20|
This is a list of cars CR thinks hefty people should buy. It’s not a list of what they buy. That led to the study mentioned above. The authors claim that they have irrefutable proof that people who can’t stop eating choose cars with a serious drinking disorder.
The greater the share of fat people, the greater the share of gas guzzling light trucks. Shazamm!
What’s more, RFF tells us (using EPA data) that the fuel economy of all new vehicles (green line) peaked in 1987. It was all downhill from there until a slight pick-up in 2005. It must have been all those non-HWP people buying big rigs.
The study reminds us that “medical cost of overweight and obesity accounted for 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998 and reached $78.5 billion, half of which were through financially-distressed Medicare and Medicaid systems.” While people increased in heft, there emerged “a seemingly unrelated but equally significant trend: The dramatic increase in the number of large passenger vehicles on American roads.” Which of course make us dependent on oil from “politically unstable” countries, fill the air with pollution, and give us skin cancer through the ozone hole.
Says the study: “Our simulation results show that had the prevalence of overweight and obesity stayed at the level in 1981 (about 20 percentage points lower than that in 2005), the average MPG of new vehicles demanded in 2005 would have been about 4.6 percent higher, everything else being equal. The improved fuel efficiency implies total gasoline savings of about 138 million barrels and reduction in CO2 emissions of 58 million tons over the lifetime of these vehicles.”
The theory is being put in question by a commentator in a discussion forum. When someone recommended a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado as the perfect ride for the circumferentially challenged, the reply was:
“Gotta climb UP into those… “