Somewhere you calculated that Americans burn around 50 million gallons of fuel idling their engines while waiting to be served at drive-thru fast-food joints. Since fast food makes people gain weight, how much fuel, oh maestro, is wasted hauling around all our excess flab in cars? —Hal, in Decatur, Illinois
It takes about a billion additional gallons a year to cart our extra human tonnage around in automobiles, according to a study from the University of Illinois that pulled together data on transportation, vehicle types, fuel consumption, and weight to reach this conclusion.
Of course duty obliged me to verify this with my own back-of-the-envelope calculations—a task accomplished thanks to an abundant supply of envelopes from Sierra Club fund appeals. I’ll spare you most of the mathematical details, but the, um, bottom line is that more than two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight, with the average man at about 195 pounds and the average woman 165 pounds. This puts our collective excess poundage at around 9 billion pounds more than if we all weighed in at what our medical gurus consider a “healthy” number.