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Eating Too Much Leads to More Gas

Given my father’s medical specialty, you might think I’m referring to intestinal gas.

Actually, though, I am talking about the kind of gas you put in your fuel tank. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Illinois have calculated how much extra gasoline is being used each year because Americans weigh more and thus require more fuel to haul them around. The answer they come up with is an extra 938 million gallons of gas, or almost $3 billion dollars worth at current prices.

That sounds like a massive, headline-grabbing number, but really it’s not that big if you think about it the right way. On average, American adults are 24 pounds heavier today than they were in 1960. With, say, 250 million American adults, that is an extra 6 billion pounds of weight. Each extra pound costs you 50 cents in extra gas payments a year. So, from the perspective of an individual deciding to go on a diet, there could hardly be anything less important to your decision than the extra gas you will buy (not surprisingly.)

How important is weight gain to overall increases in gas consumption? According to this data, Americans today consume nearly 2 billion more barrels of motor gasoline than they did in 1960. If I understand the calculations they’re doing, you use the standard 42 gallons per barrel, meaning nearly 84 billion extra gallons of gas used today. If that is correct, then the weight gain explains only 1% of the growth in U.S. gasoline use. Even as low as that number is, I am surprised at its size; I would have expected this channel to be absolutely trivial.

What is truly amazing is not the link to gas, but just how much weight Americans have gained in the past 47 years — 24 pounds per adult!

(Hat tip: LLP.)