Heavy Going for Airlines

America’s airlines are beset by higher fuel prices, cut-throat competition and costly labor agreements. The industry’s total profits, since its inception, are probably around zero. Now this:

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 (fee req’d).

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 full story is here.

My take: The most persuasive explanation for the fattening of America in the past 25 years (two-thirds of adults are now overweight) is technology, including advances not just in computing but also food preparation. What we’re seeing now is what Edward Tenner would call a classic revenge effect, in which technological solutions create new problems–usually, problems requiring constant vigilance. Ed explores this at length in his marvelous book Why Things Bite Back.

Medicare considers obesity an illness, but the costs and benefits haven’t adequately been explored. If obesity has this effect on airline fuel consumption, just think about driving! Look for OPEC to roll out a line of snack foods or soft drinks. My vote for best brand name: "Tank Up."