Solving a Driver Shortage, One Calorie at a Time

by Ellen Voie, on Dec 27, 2023 10:39:54 AM


As we close out the holiday season, those Thanksgiving pies, Christmas candy, and lots of cookies to celebrate don’t help our waistline. One study found that the average American gains eight pounds over the holiday season. 

We tend to disregard calories during this time, as ninety percent of us said we aren’t going to worry about our weight right now, and 60 percent said we deserve to indulge in treats. It’s been a hard year (or two), and we often turn to food to reward ourselves for dealing with these challenges. 

We’ll wait until January, when nearly forty percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution to eat better, exercise more, or just be healthier. For professional drivers, the quest to eat better is even more difficult because of the limited food choices and the challenges of eating in a truck.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seven in ten long haul truck drivers are obese. Obesity is defined as excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index over 25 means you are overweight and if it’s over thirty, you are considered obese.

We all know that obesity affects us in more ways than our pants size. Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea are all related to our weight. Weight loss of just five to fifteen percent can dramatically improve our health.

Why is it so hard to shed those excess pounds? There are so many reasons, but for drivers, here are some responses to a Facebook question recently. Nutritious food isn’t always available, and the variety isn’t great and in addition to these, the costs are always higher for healthier food options. Some drivers don’t like cooking in their trucks as meal preparation and clean up are a challenge. (Have you tried to clean a crock pot in a truck stop restroom?)

A study called, “Barriers to Truck Drivers’ Health Eating: Environmental Influences and Health Promotion Strategies,” published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, found that 85 percent of drivers are obese. They claim the life expectancy of drivers is 63 years for union drivers and 56 for members of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association

The research included driver eating settings such as truck stops, terminals, warehouses, rest areas, and truck cabs. They explored the food options at fast food restaurants, vending machines, mini marts, driver lounges, and break rooms. Their findings were that “trucking work settings … do not emerge as work contexts that encourage healthful eating.”

One of the statements that jumped out at me was, “These findings further corroborate our hypothesis that the trucking sector remains an overall underserved workplace, which can be linked to the blue-collar nature of its employees.”

As a frequent flyer, I spend a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. I often see pilots with a fast-food bag from Chick Fillet or Subway sandwiches, but I rarely see an overweight or obese pilot. Wait, how could this be? They are eating fast food between flights. They are away from home and don’t have access to cooking facilities in the cockpit. Why are pilots not experiencing the same rate of obesity as truck drivers? A study from the National Center of Biotechnology Information found that less than fifteen percent of pilots were obese. 

Let’s go back to the term, "blue collar.” I truly believe that a person’s sense of self-worth affects the way they feel about themselves and that extends to how they treat their bodies. One study claims that we are more likely to over eat when we are feeling a lower sense of self-esteem.

Would it make sense to start treating our professional drivers like the skilled workers they are and maybe they will feel better about themselves? This industry has a driver retention challenge and perhaps that could be changed by treating our drivers more like pilots. Let’s start talking about self-worth and maybe our driver retention issues will improve. 

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Topics:Life on the RoadHealth and WellnessEllen's Blog

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