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Improving the landscape of driver health

by Charlotte Freed | Nov 16, 2018

Truck rest stops offering food
It’s widely known that a trucker’s job comes with its own set of unique challenges. Hours upon hours of traffic, navigating a crumbling infrastructure, finding places to park monster rigs under HOS regulations, eye-strain, difficulty accessing healthy food choices: things that many office or retail worker might not even consider. While the trucking lifestyle has plenty of benefits to offer, the ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle can be extremely difficult.

Just ask Siphiwe Baleka, a Yale university champion swimmer with near-Olympian skills. As an avid trainer throughout his life, Baleka was shocked when he gained 15 pounds in two months after becoming a truck driver. After realizing how quickly this new lifestyle was taking a toll on his body, he developed a health plan and now advocates for health within trucking through the program Fitness Trucking. Dubbed “the fitness guru of the trucking industry”, Baleka pushes for drivers to get the tools and education to lead a healthful lifestyle.

He says that fleets don’t do nearly enough by offering health screening and that the “incredible apathy” in the industry needs to be disrupted. Baleka highlights the lack of health education in trucking by comparing it to NASA: “Imagine if NASA sent astronauts to outer space without educating them on the effect of zero gravity.”

Truckers’ circadian rhythm and metabolism are effected by the sometimes abnormal schedules and lack of kitchen access – and many new drivers aren’t prepared for the lifestyle changes that come with a career on the road. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health reports that obesity among truck drivers is more than double than the rest of the U.S. working population. In comparison, truck drivers also have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension in addition to a higher percentage of cigarette smokers.

While adopting a healthy lifestyle behind the wheel isn’t easy, it isn’t impossible. In fact, more businesses and truck stops are shifting to help offer drivers more health-conscious choices and wellness-centered activities. Some provide medical clinics, chiropractors, dentists, and pharmacies. Exercise and fitness rooms, walking trails, and dog parks begin to pop up more frequently as well.

Food options are also undergoing change, with more accessible alternatives to fast food and preservative-laden choices. More than ever, drivers know the long-term effects of a high-fat, high-sugar diet and like to have the option to reach for fresh fruit, salads, and yogurt – even at the smaller truck stops. With more drivers aware of their lifestyle choices and how they influence their health, truck stops need to stock healthier meals and provide amenities that support this proactive mindset.

While truck stops modify their choices and offerings to meet trucker’s needs, fleets can also do their part in promoting behaviors and activities that support more health conscious living. Some offer special deals toward healthier food options or incentivize exercise with paid programs or memberships. There is still work to be done when it comes to health awareness and education, but sometimes the smallest steps are the start toward completing a race.

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