Diabetes and the long-haul truck driver

Doctor

Taking small steps to improving health can make a big difference for drivers' wellness

Editor’s Note: Stefanie Cullingford is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Southern California. She hosts a monthly 30-day whole food plant-based challenge that begins the first of every month. She will be contributing regular columns to FreightWaves on driver health and wellness. You can learn more about her and what she can offer drivers by visiting her website at www.healthyourhands.com

Between the years 1980 and 2014, the United States has experienced a fourfold increase in the diagnosis of diabetes (CDC, 2015); 5.5 million people were diagnosed with diabetes in 1984 while the number increased to over 29 million, or 9.3% of the population, in 2014.  It is estimated that this number will continue to grow by 1.5 million people per year and that 90 to 95% of all cases are type 2 diabetes (CDC, 2014) (CDC, 2016).

First, it is important to understand the two types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces insulin. Insulin is the main anabolic hormone of the body. It is required to get sugar into the cells. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is not completely understood. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes will be on lifelong insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body utilizes sugar and the effectiveness of insulin. It is also known as insulin resistant diabetes. Lifestyle is considered one of the main risk factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes have the potential to require insulin if they do not properly care for their diabetes. Long haul truck drivers are of no exception to this statistic.

Long-haul truck drivers work in an environment that is not conducive to healthy living.

It includes:

  • long freight routes
  • frequently sleeping away from home
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • eating outside the home
  • driving alone
  • tight schedules increasing fatigue and stress

In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a national survey to look at the effects of these behaviors and lifestyle on truck drivers’ health (CDC, 2015). The survey focused on factors that may influence these health conditions including work environment, work history, driving practices, health conditions, health insurance coverage and sleep (CDC, 2015). NIOSH collected data from 1,670 drivers at 32 truck stops across the 48 continental United States (CDC, 2015).

Drivers were eligible to participate if they (Seider, 2015):

  • Had driven a truck with three or more axles as their primary job for 12 months or more
  • Took one mandatory rest period away from home during their route

The survey discovered several important statistics about respondents (CDC, 2015):

  • 69% were obese or had a BMI 30 or higher versus one third found in the general U.S. population
  • 17% were morbidly obese/BMI 40 or higher versus 7% found in the general U.S. population
  • 51% smoked cigarettes versus 19% found in the general U.S. population
  • 14% had type 2 diabetes versus 9.4% found in the general U.S. population
  • 27% averaged 6 hours of sleep
  • 27% reported no exercise in past 7 days

The overarching results of this survey was eye opening to the effects of long-haul truck drivers’ work environment on their health. The study highlighted how the population of drivers were at high risk, if not already experiencing, the health concerns associated with the lifestyle behaviors of long-haul truck driving. The greatest concern is the percentage of individuals with diabetes at 14% as well as the overwhelming rate of risk factors for type 2 diabetes including obesity at 69% and cigarette smoking at 51 % (Seider, 2015).

The incidence of and increased risk factors for diabetes can be life changing for truck drivers. Uncontrolled diabetes could mean postponement and/or removal of your license. Management of diabetes is through diet and lifestyle. This may feel daunting as the work environment of a driver includes long routes, unhealthy food choices, and sedentary lifestyle all of which pose challenges to diabetes management. The good news is it is possible.

Quick Tips for Maintaining Good Diabetes Health

1. Make your health a priority.

Being on the road can make making your health a priority a challenge. Deadlines, long routes and lack of sleep can make it difficult to focus on taking the time to treat your body and yourself correctly. The first step in diabetes management is making the time to make your health a priority.

Things to prioritize:

  • doctor’s appointments
  • medication
  • exercise
  • blood sugar testing
  • sleep
  • food choices

2. Test your blood sugar

Testing is the most important way to manage your diabetes. If you do not know what your blood sugar is you cannot adjust your food, medication, and activity accordingly.

3. Take your medication as prescribed

Taking medication your doctor prescribed is important to assure you are doing everything you can do to manage your diabetes. Missed doses can result in elevated blood sugar and complications.

4. Make time for physical activity.

Any activity/movement can improve your blood sugar. The key is making time for it.

You can try:

  • walking two to three laps around your rig at rest stops
  • getting a pedometer and aim for an additional 100 steps each day
  • try sneaking in exercises like arm or calf raises while you drive
  • do a 10-minute walk at the beginning and end of your day
  • The goal is to just move more, even one minute will count. 

5. Choose healthy food options

  • opt out of the calorie containing liquids including soda, juice, and calorie filled coffee drinks
  • have a vegetable with every meal
  • pick foods that are baked, boiled or broiled versus fried
  • pack snacks or meals for the road in a cooler including fruits and vegetables

Diabetes can be an intimidating diagnosis for anyone. As a long-haul truck driver, it is important to make your diagnosis a priority and realize you can manage your diabetes.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Inspection. (2014). Diabetes Latest. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/diabetesfactsheet/

Centers for Disease Control and Inspection. (2015). Number (in Millions) of Civilian, Non-Institutionalized Persons with Diagnosed Diabetes, United States, 1980-2014. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/prev/national/figpersons.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Inspection. (2016). At A Glance 2016 Diabetes Working to Reverse the US Epidemic retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/pdf/2016/diabetes-aag.pdf

Seiber, K. (2015). Long-Haul Truck Driver Health Survey Results. Retrieved from: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2015/03/03/truck-driver-health/

Stefanie Cullingford is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Southern California. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Boston University and is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Complementary Alternative Medicine. Stefanie specializes in diabetes, weight loss, sports nutrition and plant-based eating. Stefanie is also a Triathlon and Endurance Coach and races competitively as a triathlete. Stefanie hosts a monthly 30-day whole food plant based challenge that begins the first of every month. To find out more about what she offers or to contact her visit her website at healthyourhands.com.