Truck drivers face myriad job-related safety risks. From lack of sleep and drowsy driving to poor weather conditions and traffic collisions, a trucker’s life involves many potential threats. One such threat does not make headlines as often as catastrophic car accidents, yet it is taking the lives of truckers at an alarming rate. Here is the untold story obesity – one of the most dangerous realities carriers face today.
The Scope of the Problem
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently published an important study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The study collected data about trucker health and safety from 1,670 long-haul truck drivers at 32 different truck stops across the United States. The results of the study unearthed a shocking fact: The prevalence of obesity was more than twice as high (69% vs. 31%) for long-haul truck drivers than the average national working population. The prevalence of morbid obesity was also more than twice as high (17% vs. 7%), and the rate of self-reported diabetes was double (14% vs. 7%).
Despite the high prevalence of obesity and morbid obesity in long-haul truck drivers, the majority (84%) of respondents in the study reported that they perceived their health status as good, very good, or excellent. This shows a marked lack of awareness about health concerns related to weight, fat, and cholesterol. Many truckers do not realize the considerable health risks of eating unhealthy foods, sitting for hours every day, and engaging in behaviors such as not exercising and smoking (51% reported being current cigarette smokers compared to an only 19% national prevalence).
Studies from the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) show that the average lifespan of long-haul truck drivers is 10 to 15 years less than that of the average person. The FMCSA also reported that more than 13% of annual fatal commercial truck accidents are due to fatigue and other physical issues – obesity and limited mobility included. Health is at the heart of these frightening figures, and it is up to each individual carrier to turn these statistics around. Unless obese truckers make a change, they face serious risks later in life.
What Causes Obesity in Carriers?
Categorically, carriers are one of the unhealthiest populations in our country. Higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and smoking all contribute to the low health status of our nation’s truck drivers. But what causes these health concerns? It appears that a combination of factors lead to higher body mass indexes among carriers, with three main contributors:
- Sedentary lifestyle. Many drivers sit for 14-hour shifts (the maximum allowed under hours of service regulations) and then spend off-duty time sleeping or eating. This leaves little time to dedicate to exercising. Despite having to work long hours and meet strict deadlines, carriers should strive to engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- Unhealthy diet. Life on the road does not offer much in the way of health food. Most fast-food restaurants, truck stops, and gas stations offer fast grab-and-go meals and do not prioritize health. This leads to truckers eating diets that consist mostly of fatty, unhealthy foods that contribute to high cholesterol and obesity.
- Lack of sleep. Studies have connected weight gain to a lack of sleep – something many carriers struggle with. In the NIOSH report, 27% of respondents reported averaging six hours of sleep or less. Restlessness, sleep apnea, and lack of sleep can all contribute to obesity.
The lifestyle of a carrier necessarily involves sitting for hours at a time, limiting sleep, and eating on the road. It is often harder for carriers to make healthy choices than it is for the average American worker, because life behind the wheel of a big rig does not allow for many exercise or healthy snack breaks. Still, carriers must find ways to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into their day-to-day lives. Otherwise, health concerns could lead to losing their commercial driver’s licenses, their livelihoods, and their lives.
How to Combat Carrier Obesity
If you are a carrier who struggles with obesity or being overweight, you can start making changes today for a better tomorrow. There are many simple and effective tips for healthy living while on the road, from packing your own food to performing quick exercises at truck stops. Here are a few ideas for shedding weight as a trucker:
- Pack healthy snacks. Bring healthy snacks in the cab with you to prevent stocking up at gas stations. Snack ideas include banana chips, dried fruit, nuts, turkey jerky, and fruits and vegetables.
- Order cleaner dishes at restaurants. Opt for water instead of sugary sodas, salads instead of fatty side dishes, and whole, natural foods instead of processed or fried foods.
- There are several resources you can find during an online search to show you truck stop workouts, in-truck routines, and other easy exercises for truckers – no gym required.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep. Do what you need to get your rest and ensure your health and safety on the road. Try earplugs and an eye mask if you have trouble sleeping during the day.
Do your best to eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep every night to improve your physical health. Carrier obesity is an epidemic in the trucking industry, but it does not have to be your downfall. With increased awareness of the problem, personal efforts to make changes, and more industry emphasis on supporting carrier health, truck drivers have hope for healthier futures.