Health movement reaches truck stops

Truck stops are notorious for unhealthy food, but that is starting to change as more locations are offering healthier eating choices, evening allowing local farms to sell fresh fruit and vegetables. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Truck stops are notorious for unhealthy food, but that is starting to change as more locations are offering healthier eating choices, evening allowing local farms to sell fresh fruit and vegetables. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Truck stops slowly plant the seeds for a healthier “trucker lifestyle”

Long-haul truck drivers don’t have the best rep when it comes to embodying a healthy lifestyle. Much of this reputation has to do with the routine that the job entails: weeks on end sleeping away from home, an abundance of sedentary hours at the wheel, and last but certainly not least, an excessive amount of precarious processed food.

The majority of highway hangouts offer a tantalizing selection of cuisine ranging from McDonalds to Dunkin Donuts. The “To-Go” options are even worse, a nutritionist’s nightmare of conveniently packaged roadside poison. Not only are these products usually doused in processed sugars and lacking in all major food groups, but they are also enticingly inexpensive, which appears to be a natural sacrifice for the average driver who is already forgoing his life and relationships to have a steady income. However, things are about to change.

Over the past decade, the entire country has been waking up to the reality of this false American dietary dream. We have witnessed the statistics of obesity and insurance rates soar to unprecedented levels. According to a survey by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), over two-thirds of America’s truck drivers (67%) are obese, with 17% classifying as morbidly obese (a BMI of 40 or greater). This has sparked a reaction from corporate to upgrade the current trucking culture’s approach to health, starting at the watering ground: the truck stops. 

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Truck stops are the hubs of social life on the road that provide physical and emotional sustenance to solitary drivers. Many drivers primarily dine at these venues, which demands a huge civic responsibility. Similar to the public outrage of school cafeterias serving frozen pizza to children and counting the “tomato sauce” as a vegetable for tax benefits, the public will no longer stand for this alimentation abuse. Unfortunately, most of this information is shrouded in doubt and denial.

In response to this data, NIOSH decided to shed light on the issue and take it as an opportunity to educate truckers about the harmful effects of these diets. They created a user-friendly graphic with the results of their survey and encouraged companies to hang them up as PSA's in the workplace. Some truck stops are already employing this model to raise awareness.

The graphic alludes to the potential dangers of obesity, including sleep apnea, stroke and cancer. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that heavy tractor-trailer truck drivers accounted for 13% of all fatal occupational injuries, whether it was sleep apnea at the wheel, a diabetic shock or a heart attack that caused the collision. An important highlight of the graphic is that even when the accident is not fatal, it still may result in the disqualification for a commercial license, thus costing the individual his/her job.

Another truck stop achievement is the setting up of miniature farmer’s markets outside the entrance, engaging local farmers to sell fruits and vegetables to drivers passing through.

“The problem is the lack of real food,” comments Arthur Brown, a truck driver from Boise who has long battled with his weight. “All of the food we find on the road has been altered in some way. Deep-fried, processed, sugar-coated. Heck, even the ketchup is full of sugar.”

Brown has been working with a personal nutritionist offered by his company’s Wellness Program, one of many that have been springing up all over the industry to counteract rising insurance costs. Brown tells his success story as he has lost over 20 pounds since he stared working with a dietician.

“You don’t see it very often, but every now and again you’ll see fresh fruit and vegetables at truck stops, and I’ll always snag them up. They are the only real source of fiber and vitamins we can find out here.”

Social media has also been teeming with fitness buzzwords for truckers. There have been apps created exclusively for promoting trucking fitness, such as the Iron Trucker Fitness app, which encourages truckers to do certain physical activities on their trucks at truck stops, like DOT pull-ups or crunches. There are also less intense activities, like bike riding around the parking lots. When you’re seated for 11 hours a day, every calorie counts.

Even though truck stops are far from looking like vegan CrossFit gyms, they are definitely stepping up from the crippling obesity of the past. We have learned that malnutrition can be way more dangerous than an undesirable beer belly, but can actually cause atrocities such as sleep apnea or diabetic shock at the wheel, ultimately ending in fatal collisions. By truck stops taking conscious effort to shed light on issues through PSA’s and offering locally grown produce, the wheels have begun to turn, and trucker’s have responded by creating communities of support towards a healthier tomorrow. Like Brown affirms, “Every bit of support counts.”