The skinny on fat test dummies

Fact-checked with


At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

What is it about the holidays that brings out the obesity news? Oops, momentito please while I ladle gravy over my Lucky Charms.

There. Anyway, I almost choked on a Thanksgiving turkey leg while watching a TV news segment on the new supersized crash test dummies developed by Humanetics, a Michigan-based manufacturing company.

It seems Humanetics considers today’s standard dummies, which are basically metal frames wrapped in vinyl with rubberized joints and numerous sensors, woefully out of step with our voracious times. To correct this oversight, its engineers have developed a more anatomically correct generation of $500,000 punching bags, including male, female and child versions scaled to various ages, the better to keep vehicles safer and auto insurance rates in check.

Where the standard crash test dummy in use today weighs in at 167 pounds, the new “fat” test dummy counterpart tips the scales at 273 pounds, or a whopping 106 pounds more junk in the trunk. It also has sprouted to 6-feet-2, five inches taller than today’s front-seat meat puppets.

Humanetics chief Chris O’Connor maintains that today’s overweight American has a far different center of gravity, seat position and spatial relationship with seat belts and airbags that are not accurately reflected with current crash test dummies.

“We need to have safety for all body types,” he says. “We want everyone to be safe.”

While the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has no plans to supersize its dummies just yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s open to exploring the idea.

And it should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering one in three Americans, or roughly 78.6 million folks are obese today. What’s more, a 2013 University of California at Berkeley study found that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in a car crash. In my view, we’re not going to save those lives with skinny dummies.

America’s war on the waistline has primarily focused on the impact of obesity on health and longevity, a major contributor to the nation’s rising health insurance costs. While the impact of federal public information initiatives, such as the Food and Drug Administration’s new calorie-posting mandate for large chain restaurants beginning in late 2015, have yet to catch fire, more aggressive approaches, such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on supersized sodas, have inspired more derision than weight reduction.

But a few anti-obesity advocates hope to hit the overeaters where it really hurts: in the pocketbook.

Duke behavioral scientists Peter Ubel and Avni Shah recently conducted a study at a Durham, North Carolina, restaurant called Six Plates, in which three of the six dishes offered daily that were notably high in fat and calories sold for 15.5 percent more than the healthier trio.

Result? Price had no discernible effect on what people ordered.

“If we are indeed going to tax restaurant food for being unhealthful, we should not expect price alone to do all the dirty work,” they concluded.

Could someone please pass the butter beans?

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.

Veteran contributing editor Jay MacDonald is co-author of “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”