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Lose weight to save gas? Not so fast

Published October 22, 2012

Excuse me. Hi, I don’t mean to intrude, but I just noticed you waiting in line there at the Cinnabon, and I see you’ve got your “Buy 23 and Get the 24th One Free Plus a Complimentary Defibrillator” card out. I’m just standing here at the Fresh’n’ Freaky waiting to order my diet wheatgrass water, you see – after all, it’s Friday, and a little treat every now and then won’t kill me! Anyway, I was just wondering – so do you completely hate the Earth, or what?

Believe me, I don’t judge. I wasn’t going to say anything about high fructose corn syrup, or saturated fat, or if you don’t think you’re setting a bad example for today’s youth by spending most of your adult life unable to see your feet. But I’m really moved by this infographic I just saw.

More: Here’s how to fight back against high gas prices

More: Why some complain about ‘pay before you pump

I try to keep up with modern science, but reading takes a really long time, so I rely on infographics for most of my information. Anyway, I was shocked to learn that FAT people are destroying the environment (see the full infographic below)!

No, not the aesthetic environment, although that too, if you want my frank opinion. No, of course you don’t. Sorry. But it’s a question of fuel economy – the heavier the driver and passengers, the heavier the car, and so of course that destroys fuel economy and thus the environment. Right here, for instance: it says that “the growing trend of American obesity adds unexpected weight to vehicles, making it difficult for consumers to realize efficiency gains.” And look at this: “39 million gallons of fuel are used every year for every pound added on in passenger weight!” No matter how fuel-efficient, fancy-schmancy, New-Age and high-tech you think your ride is, the minute you and your Cinnabons get in, it’s basically a tank.

In fact, between 1960 and 2002 – as you can see from this little picture of a gas pump they have here – ONE BILLION GALLONS of gasoline a YEAR could be attributed to passengers’ weight gain! (Kind of amazing it turned out to be such a round number, don’t you think? What are the odds?)

I can tell by the look on your face that you’re asking how this could possibly be. Your chins don’t obscure your skepticism. Sure, with obesity rates climbing to the point where more than one-third of all adults in the United States are obese (clearly indicated here by this silhouette of a chubby couple), cars have more to haul, so on aggregate they’re going to use more fuel … but how could the addition of, say, 50 pounds to a car that weighs 5,500 pounds really make that much of a difference?

Right! Well, that’s why they have those little numbers in there, for people like you who can’t just trust a picture of a fat person standing on a seesaw. They tell us where the hard data comes from, in this case from Consumer Reports – weird, I didn’t know they did scientific research – but look, here’s the article. See, it says it right there: “Obesity has caused more people to buy larger vehicles … as the overweight and obesity rates increased, so did the percentage of vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks purchased [between 1999 and 2005].”

Oh. So it’s not that the car uses more gas because the people in it are heavier, it’s that the heavier people are buying larger cars. And they know this because, well, because the people and the cars got bigger over the same time period. So obviously it was the people getting fat that caused larger cars to take over the market. It didn’t have anything to do with the increased streamlining of SUVs and trucks for the commercial market, or cheap gas, or, in fact, improved fuel economy technology that automakers exploited to make cars bigger without lowering the MPG of each. It must have been the chubbies’ insatiable desire for wider drivers’ seats that didn’t make them feel judged.

You know, you’re getting that look again, like you’re about to tell me some stuff from your grad school stats classes. Let’s just move on. What about this thing here – “every one hundred pounds can cut MPG by up to 2% … equals one fewer mile per gallon.” And as you can see, a little gas can with a minus sign. They could have had some barbells or maybe an anvil, but I guess they didn’t think of it. But I mean, there’s no arguing with that. The pounds can cut MPG by up to 2 per cent. That’s just math. Okay, FINE, we’ll look up the articles from the little numbers again. You know, if everyone was like you, there wouldn’t even be any infographics, there’d just be, like, articles and information and words and stuff. Then you’d be sorry.

Hm. Well, this must be a mistake, because these articles aren’t even about obesity. They’re not even about people. This one here is about not carrying too much heavy cargo in your car, because it affects your mileage, and the other one is about automakers trying to cope with “car obesity” – trying to make their cars smaller, not their customers. But hey, does it really matter? I mean, whether it’s a hundred pounds of kitty litter or a hundred pounds of accumulated Cinnabon – no offense – it’s still a drag on the car, right? So a person with a hundred pounds to lose is actually affecting the mileage of their car!

Oh … except it does say right there that it would really only make a difference to the smallest cars, that it would not make much difference to a larger car which, according to the first factoid, is what people with a hundred pounds to lose are driving.

Right. Okay. So it’s an infographic full of misinformation and finger-pointing and cheap-shots and male-bovine droppings.

Listen, I don’t know how to say this, but… are you going to finish that?

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