CHICAGO - Want to spend less at the pump? Lose some weight.
That's the implication of a new study that says Americans are burning 1 billion more gallons of gasoline each year than they did in 1960 because of their expanding waistlines. Simply put, more weight in the car means lower gasoline mileage.
Using recent gasoline prices of $2.20 a gallon, that translates to about $2.2 billion more spent on gasoline each year.
"The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent. There is a relationship between the two," said University of Illinois researcher Sheldon Jacobson, a study co-author.
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"If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption."
The lost mileage is pretty small for any single driver. Jacobson said the typical driver - someone who records less than 12,000 miles annually - would use roughly 18 fewer gallons of gasoline during the course of a year by losing 100 pounds. At $2.20 per gallon, that would be a savings of almost $40.
Outside experts said that even if the calculations aren't exact, the study makes sense.
"If you put more weight into your car, you're going to get fewer miles per gallon," Emory University health care analyst Kenneth Thorpe said Wednesday.
The obesity rate among U.S. adults doubled from 1987 to 2003, from about 15 percent to more than 30 percent. Also, the average weight for U.S. men was 191 pounds in 2002 and 164 pounds for women, about 25 pounds heavier than in 1960, government figures show.
The study's conclusions are based on those weight figures and Americans' 2003 driving habits, involving roughly 223 million cars and light trucks nationwide.