Blog: Poor Truck Driver Health is a Risk to Everyone
A recent study found that truck drivers were substantially more likely to experience obesity, self-reported high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and sleep disorders than the general population. Obviously, preserving the physical health of truck drivers is important and should be addressed for the sheer purpose of improving drivers’ well-being. However, recent findings indicate that these health issues actually pose a broader risk to general roadway safety. While physical illness, fatigue, and roadway crashes tend to be viewed as separate problems, these findings suggest that these issues are often interrelated, making it essential to address the root causes.
A Cycle of Risk
Sleep-deprivation that is often associated with truck driving frequently contributes to physical illness. A 2018 Accident Analysis & Prevention article notes that not only does sleep-deprivation and long-term sleep loss contribute to “increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, […] cardiovascular disease, and stroke," but the diseases themselves significantly contribute to fatigue. This creates a system wherein sleep loss produces physical illness, which in turn produces fatigue, which then produces an increased risk of roadway crashes. In fact, a 2018 cohort study found that “drivers with three or medical conditions had significantly increased risk of preventable Department of Transportation (DOT) reportable crashes […] and preventable crashes with injuries […]." Furthermore, the fact that crashes involving large trucks more often result in fatal outcomes for occupants of passenger vehicles makes this an issue of safety for everyone on the roadway, not just truck drivers.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Brenden B. Ronna, et al, suggest that the poor physical health of truck drivers could be attributed to the lack of “physical activity and exercise intensity” associated with the profession, as drivers in their study “reported not meeting the minimum physical activity recommendations for adults […],” which could negatively influence their cardiovascular health and exacerbate the risk of disease. In an attempt to determine ways to improve the health of long-haul truckers, a randomized lifestyle counseling trial was conducted on Finnish truck and bus drivers over 12 months. This counseling included hour-long in-person sessions and half-hour phone sessions with nutritionists and a physiotherapist, with a focus on diet, physical activity and sleep. Target areas included increasing meal frequency and fruit and vegetable consumption, while adding 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking five days out of a week. By the end of the trial, there was a notable decrease in participants’ weight as well as risk factors associated with diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Would increasing the frequency of regular examinations improve health trends? What about including diet and exercise counseling as part of the exam? While none of these measures present a surefire solution, they might indicate the next steps for improving trucker health, possibly reducing fatigue and distraction, and therefore reducing the risk of crashes.