By Daniel Yee
The Associated Press
ATLANTA - Heavy suitcases aren't the only things weighing down airplanes and requiring them to burn more fuel, pushing up the cost of flights. A new government study reveals that airlines increasingly have to worry more about the weight of their passengers.
America's growing waistlines are hurting the bottom lines of airline companies. Heavier fliers have created heftier fuel costs, according to the government study.
Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"The obesity epidemic has unexpected consequences beyond direct health effects," said Dr. Deron Burton of the CDC. "Our goal was to highlight one area that had not been looked at before."
The extra fuel burned also had an environmental impact, as an estimated 3.8 million extra tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air, according to the study.
The agency said its calculations are rough estimates, issued to highlight previously undocumented consequences of the obesity epidemic.
The estimates were calculated by determining how much fuel the 10 extra pounds per passenger represented in Department of Transportation statistics, Burton said.
More than half - 56 percent - of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in the early 1990s, according to a CDC survey. That rose to 65 percent in a similar survey done from 1999 to 2002.
Although the Air Transport Association of America has not yet validated the CDC data, spokesman Jack Evans said the health agency's appraisal "does not sound out of the realm of reality."
With record-high fuel costs, everything on an airplane is now a weighty issue.
Bulky magazines have gone out the door. Large carry-ons are being scrutinized and seats are being replaced with plastic and other lightweight materials.
Although passenger bulk has been an issue in the past - Dallas-based Southwest Airlines requires large people to buy a second seat - Evans says it's not likely airlines will scrutinize how much passengers weigh. Instead, they are trying to do a better job of estimating passenger weight in figuring out how much fuel they need for a flight.
Federated forecast rosier
253 houses, 300 condos coming in Fairfield Twp., Harrison
Gutter-lid suppliers slug it out in court
Opportunities at the Exchange
Bush agenda, oil revive markets
Fatter fliers add to fuel cost
Railroads run fast to meet demands
Wachovia to pay $37M in merger suit