Truck Driving & Health
Part 2 – Truck Driving & Health
Truck Drivers & Risk Factors for Disease
Blog 2 in this series, Truck Driving & Health, we will take at look at some common areas of focus regarding health risks faced by truck drivers. While at the start here, it may seem like nothing but bad news for truckers, there are significant improvements taking place on every front. Solutions to problems only come about as a result of identifying a problem in the first place.
Truck Driving & Diet
Whether we are associated with the transportation industry or not, most people in our culture are familiar with the term “truck stop food”. The term tends to conjure up negative connotations for the truck driving population.
What does diet have to do with driving a truck?
There is a correlation between diet and health. Because truck drivers are so often at the mercy of the convenience that a truck stop offers, it takes work and planning to maintain a healthy diet while on the road.
In one study conducted by the University of North Carolina–Greensboro in 2018, truck driving was associated with poorer levels of nutrition than the average population. The lack of vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as high sodium content, sugar and trans fats contained in fast food and many other truck stop offerings are associated with higher rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Higher rates of obesity are also associated with sleep apnea. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), as well as studies conducted in Australia, Brazil and Canada have all garnered similar findings. The influence of unhealthy foods puts truck drivers at a greater risk of a cardiovascular incident (heart attack or stroke).
Truck Driving & Exercise
Along with negative consequences from unhealthy food consumption, truck drivers are at greater risk of suffering from obesity-related health issues due to a lack of exercise on the job. The Department of Epidemiology at the University of California in Los Angeles conducted a survey of over 3000 truck drivers (OTR drivers and short-haul drivers) which revealed that more than 92% of drivers did not meet recommended physical activity guidelines.
Truck Driving & Air Quality
Exposure to higher levels of diesel particulates is thought to be responsible for higher rates of lung cancer in long-haul and short-haul truck drivers. In 2012 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen. As the trucking industry itself is becoming more environmentally conscious, diesel exposure should begin to decline which is great news for those who earn their living driving truck. However because truck drivers often sleep around other idling trucks and are exposed to exhaust while waiting at loading docks and during refueling, they can still have greater exposure to diesel particulates.
Added to the burden of poor ambient air quality is the high rate of smoking in the trucking industry. In 2015 about 20% of the general population of adults in the US smoked cigarettes versus more than 50% of truck drivers.
Truck Driving, Sleep Quality & Quantity
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared sleep insufficiency to be a public health epidemic. Blue light exposure (cell phones, tablets, artificial lights), especially after sundown, is thought to contribute to disruptions in circadian rhythm (internal biological clock) and lower melatonin production. Melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone, is produced through a chain reaction initiated by diminishing light levels.
Shift workers also face disruptions in circadian rhythm. And those shift workers with the least amount of recovery time between schedule changes tend to suffer the most from poor sleep quality and quantity. Many truck drivers contend with changing schedules and inadequate adaptation time. Further complicating a trucker’s ability to get quality sleep is the sleep environment itself. OTR drivers/long-haul drivers usually sleep in the cab of their truck, in a noisy environment which can disturb sleep.
Many people, not just truck drivers look to the caffeine in coffee and energy drinks to help with alertness. Unfortunately the effects can linger longer than desire and have a detrimental effect on sleep. Even the nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant and can have a similar effect as caffeine.
According to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average sleep time of drivers was less than 5 hours per 24-hour period and almost half of drivers supplemented that with a nap. Two truck drivers in the study were discovered to have previously undiagnosed sleep apnea. As has been mentioned, obesity is linked to the development of obstructive sleep apnea which also has a detrimental effect on sleep quality.
Health Hazards Identified – Now What?
The goal in identifying health risk factors facing the truck drivers is not to villainize the trucking industry. Many strategies have already been implemented and truck drivers themselves are becoming more and more aware of what they can do to take personal responsibility for their health.
Next up in this series, Truck Driving & Health, we will talk about some of the good news regarding the trucking industry. In the next couple of blogs we’ll take a look at positive trends and some new strategies that are helping to make improvements in the areas of diet and exercise, as well as air quality and sleep for truck drivers.
Biagi Bros is a full service, B-to-B logistics company based in Napa Valley, California with branches throughout the United States and South-East Asia.
If you would like information regarding freight forwarding or warehousing, or if you are interested in working for a company that cares about the environment, people and a job well done in every area of life, contact Biagi Bros.