tracking pixel

Rising Obesity Creates Safety Concerns

Home & Community Safety

Obesity brings with it a variety of health problems. The Canada Safety Council is concerned that the rising number of morbidly obese individuals is also a safety issue.


According to the Canada Safety Council, research has shown that morbidly obese people are more likely to die in a crash. This is due to the sheer force of their weight, under-lying health problems that hinder recovery, and because they are hard to extricate from a crumpled vehicle.

Car dealers sometimes provide free seat-belt extenders that fit the restraint to a larger body, because standard seat belts are not designed for obese people. However, in a crash a seat belt must grip bone: hip, sternum, shoulder, and ribs. Fat does not act as a safety cushion, but rather acts like air and creates a gap that can allow the person to slide from behind the seat belt during rollovers. In a crash, the belt snaps back through that gap and slams into the skeleton or organs as they hurtle forward. If the seat belt does not quickly encounter the pelvis, it can damage internal organs.

Automakers have been designing vehicles with the comfort and safety of portly drivers and passengers in mind. Seats in some vehicles now have longer rails to slide on, providing more space between the driver and the steering wheel. Adjustable pedals allow drivers with large midsections to move well back from the steering wheel.

Lifting and Moving

Lifting injuries, especially back injuries, are common among health care workers. In an institutional setting, extremely obese patients cannot be lifted and transferred in the same way as “larger” adults. The task requires equipment designed for people hundreds of pounds overweight. Wheel chairs, beds and commodes must also be designed to accommodate people whose size and weight far exceed the norm. This means specialized products, and training to assure the safety of both the patient and the worker.

Emergency responders face a challenge when they need to move a corpulent person. Due to limited mobility, obese persons are more likely to require extra help. Special equipment and added personnel must be readily available to carry them. Morbidly obese casualties require Large Body Surface stretchers, which extend the width of the stretcher, but do not allow the load limit (around 295 kg, or 650 pounds) to be exceeded. This equipment is still uncommon in Canadian ambulance services.

In a fire, anyone unable to fit into a normal escape route such as a stairway or window may have few alternatives. If the fire is in a multi-story building, those too big to move quickly on their own will find it hard to get out, with elevators out of service and crowds rushing to escape. A natural disaster can endanger large numbers of people. Due to the sheer magnitude of a major catastrophe, rescuers may be unable to move the very obese away from the danger.