Obesity among truck drivers part of a national crisis

Obese TruckerApproximately one-third of adults in the U.S. are overweight and the country’s trucking industry is not exempt.

A recent report by the New York Times cited a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that found 86 percent of the estimated 3.2 million truck drivers in America are obese.

"Obesity is a terrible problem in the trucking industry," said Brett Blowers, director of marketing and development for the Healthy Trucking Association of America (HTAA).

The New York Times report included interviews with drivers who said they were not surprised to learn obesity was such a problem in their industry. Drivers said they tend to eat high-calorie foods, are sedentary much of the work day and rarely find time to exercise.

Organizations such as HTAA are trying to fight the battle of the bulge.

A visit to the organization’s website at healthytruck.org will lead the reader to a number of resources and information on how to stay healthy while working on the road.

In Mississippi, HTAA formed an alliance with the Mississippi Trucking Association (MTA) to provide for the health and wellness needs of MTA member fleets and their drivers. As a result of this association partnership, the employees of all MTA member fleets will be eligible for HTAA member benefits.

"We are very pleased to partner with MTA to provide benefits that will improve the health and wellness of the men and women who drive for Mississippi trucking fleets," says Blowers. "The MTA has shown a true commitment to the wellbeing of its members and our new partnership is another example of how MTA goes above and beyond to provide its membership with an ever-increasing list of outstanding benefits."

Last year, HTAA launched its Driver Vitality Program, one of the first universal, personal health-and-wellness management tools that professional drivers can use to improve and maintain their health.

“The HTAA Driver Vitality Program is the single most important development to date in the nationwide campaign to help drivers improve their health,” HTAA executive director Bill Gordon said.  “It’s exactly what the industry needs — a universal platform that all drivers can use [and] an industry standard that can benefit every driver and every fleet.”

HTAA has partnered with the Vitality Group in the development of this program for the trucking industry and address all the common ailments that impact drivers in the trucking industry. Whether a driver is suffering from obesity, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, hypertension or a variety of other illnesses, the HTAA Vitality Program will identify the problem that needs to be addressed, lay out a pathway for the driver to follow, provide the resources the driver needs and then reward the driver for his or her efforts.

“We’ve been working for over three years to develop this program," Gordon said.  "So many ‘wellness programs’ are really just weight-loss diet plans," he said. "This program is the game changer that is going to finally give drivers and fleets the tools they need to turn around the trucking industry’s current negative health trend."

Unhealthy drivers not only pose a threat to themselves, but those joining them on the highways. A recent study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Research found severely obese truck drivers are more likely to crash in the first two years of driving on the job. A related condition, sleep apnea, is now falling under greater scrutiny as a potential cause of highway crashes.

For this reason, the joint advisory committee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suggested that all commercial truck drivers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher be tested for sleep apnea.

"That's when the data stood up and shouted at us," says Jon Anderson, a biostatistician at the University of Minnesota, who co-authored the study. "We found really clear evidence that the highest-BMI drivers are at higher risk of having an accident."

The FMCSA reports that as many as 28 percent of commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders have sleep apnea.

A panel of fleet executives discussed the issue of trucker’s health at a symposium in Arizona in December and there was a consensus that

health and wellness programs are part of the solution to creating good jobs for drivers. One company has created a “Fittest of the Fleet” competition in addition to participating in the Trucking Carrier Association’s Weight Loss showdown. 


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