Childhood Obesity and CPS

This article originated in the May/June 2009 issue of Safe Ride News.

Over the past thirty years, the rate of obesity has doubled for children ages 2-5 and 12-15, and tripled for kids ages 6-11. Kim Hermann, Safe Kids USA, discussed how obesity presents challenges for child passengers.

Obesity in children is not specific to gender or socioeconomic group, but is overrepresented among Hispanics, Native Americans, and children receiving WIC benefits.  Obesity is more prevalent in the southeastern states compared with other areas of the U.S.

Aside from the many other health concerns related to this trend, there are serious implications for CPS.  A study published in the December 2008 Injury Prevention found that obese children had a 2 ½ times greater risk of injury in a crash than children of normal weight.

While this makes it even more important that these children ride in age-appropriate CRs, many families can’t find one with a suitable upper weight limit.  Therefore, some parents feel forced to begin forward-facing use or move their child out of a harness or BPB before he or she is developmentally ready.

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the 2000 U.S. Census, growth curve projections have suggested that by 2005, parents of over 280,000 kids would have trouble finding a height/weight-appropriate CR on the U.S. market, with the worst problem being for 3-year-old children.  In response to this, CR manufacturers have developed many CRs with expanded harness capacity, both in the rear-facing and forward-facing modes.  In 2008, 15 conventional CRs with harnesses and two vests were available for kids weighing more than 40 pounds, compared with only four in 2005.

Challenges to the use of available products still exist, however.  Higher prices, lack of awareness, and attitudinal issues (i.e., preferring to move through stages of CR use too quickly) all pose problems. Since these CRs are larger in overall size, fit in smaller vehicles is also an issue.

In addition to CR limitations, the upper weight limits of lower LATCH anchors, tether anchors, and LATCH connectors of CRs must be considered.  Many parents are unaware that these attachment options cannot be used when a child exceeds the weight specified by the CR or vehicle manufacturer.  The owner’s manuals and the LATCH Manual provide guidance as to when installation must be done with a seat belt rather than LATCH due to weight restrictions.


Pollack, KM; Xie, D; Arbogast, KB; and Durbin, DR. “Body mass index and injury risk among US children 9-15 years old in motor vehicle crashes.” Injury Prevention. 1 December 2008; 14(6): 366 – 371.

Trifiletti, LB; Shields, W;Bishai, D; McDonald, E; Reynaud, F; and Gielen, A. “Tipping the Scales: Obese Children and Child Safety Seats.” Pediatrics. April 2006,117(4): 1197-1202.