Under safety standards written more than 60 years ago, airplane seats must be designed to accommodate a 170-pound passenger. The trouble is, Americans have grown much larger in the decades since the rules were established, and some engineers are starting to question whether airline seats are strong enough to protect overweight travelers, according to The New York Times. Is flying unsafe for obese passengers? Here's what you need to know:

How heavy are we?
Today, the average man weighs 194 pounds, making him 24 pounds heavier than the passengers for whom the seats were designed. The average woman, at 165 pounds, has nearly hit the limit, too. And the number of people outgrowing their seats is increasing every year. The number of "severely obese" Americans is projected to double by 2030, when, according to a Duke University prediction, 42 percent of the population will qualify.

Why does that pose problems?
In some cases, Robert Salzar, the principal scientist at the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia, tells the Times, a large passenger could "blast" through a seat belt, endangering himself, and potentially injuring others. And, according to one study on automobile crashes, obese passengers are far less likely than others to even wear safety restraints — because they find them uncomfortable.

What can be done?
For starters, seats and seat belts should be tested using obese dummies, Salzar says. But "eventually, airlines will probably have to dole out the dollars to address these issues," says Leslie Horn at Gizmodo. That means "bigger seats and stronger seat belts." In the meantime, all any of us can do is buckle up and "hope the airplane doesn't encounter any turbulence."

Source: Daily Mail, Gizmodo, New York Times