March 3rd, 2015 1:08 pm ET - Karl Sieber, Ph.D.
The most recent issue of CDC Vital Signs highlights a few of the safety risks faced by truck drivers. Truck drivers also face health risks that can affect their livelihood. Limited illness and injury data for long-haul truck drivers prompted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct the National Survey of Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury. Results were published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Long-haul truck drivers (LHTD) drive heavy and tractor-trailer trucks with freight delivery routes requiring them to sleep away from home most nights. In 2010, NIOSH researchers collected data from 1,670 long-haul truck drivers at 32 truck stops across the 48 contiguous United States. The survey asked questions about self-reported health conditions and health and safety risk factors.
The research revealed that over two-thirds of respondents were obese (69%), as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and 17% were morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or higher). In comparison, only one-third of U.S. working adults were reported to be obese and 7% morbidly obese. Obesity increases the chance for type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, cancer, joint and back pain, and stroke. These health conditions can disqualify a driver from receiving their commercial driver’s license and essentially take away their livelihood.
NIOSH developed an infographic to help explain these findings to truck drivers and provide helpful weight loss tips. We encourage the printing, posting and distribution of the infographic (click the image for the full size infographic).
The survey also revealed that more than half of long-haul truck drivers were current cigarette smokers —over twice the general working population (51% vs. 19%). Smoking increases the chance for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancer. Although most drivers averaged over 6 hours of sleep per 24-hr period, 27% of drivers averaged 6 hours or less of sleep compared to 30% of working adults.
Self-reported prevalence of chronic conditions was based on whether drivers had ever been told by a health care professional that they had the condition. The prevalence of diabetes among truck drivers was than twice that of the general population (14% vs. 7%). The reported prevalence of heart disease in long-haul truck drivers was significantly lower than in the U.S. adult working population (4% vs. 7%). Twenty-two percent of long-haul truck drivers were either taking medicine for, or had been told they had, high cholesterol. Twenty-seven percent of drivers reported no moderate or vigorous physical activity of at least 30 minutes duration during the previous 7 days. There were no comparable data for the general working population.
More than half of long-haul truck drivers reported having two or more of these health conditions or unhealthy behaviors: high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, limited physical activity, high cholesterol, or fewer than 6 hours of sleep. These factors increase the chance of developing preventable, long-lasting diseases.
So what do we do with this information? Findings from the survey provide baseline health and injury data that can be used to identify where intervention is needed and to guide the development of health and safety policy for long-haul truck drivers. The data can be used as benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of programs to reduce injury and illness. Our first effort involves the creation of the obesity infographic. We request your help in getting this information out to truck drivers. We value your input and welcome your ideas as well as your concerns and observations about this important occupational group.
Visit our long-haul truck driver health web page or the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector program portfolio for more information on NIOSH transportation research.
Thank you for your assistance.
Karl Sieber, Ph.D.
Karl Sieber is a NIOSH Research Health Scientist with the Surveillance Branch of the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies. He has worked in survey design and analysis and has developed approaches to collect hazard surveillance data including the collection of occupational exposure data in the indoor environment and from metalworking fluids.