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Weighing driver health

“Your body is your engine” and needs routine maintenance to prevent a breakdown.

Drivers should get in physical exercise any way they can. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Fueling drivers’ bodies is as important as filling their trucks’ fuel tanks, according to advice given at the Women In Trucking Accelerate! Conference & Expo in Dallas this week, and the type of fuel is vital for optimal performance.

“Weight, weight and weight,” replied Bob Perry, president of Health in Transportation, when asked the top three driver health issues during a panel discussion.

“Weight drives a lot of the national averages we hear about for professional drivers: diabetes, blood pressure, sleep deprivation,” said Perry.

Weight also can play a role when obtaining a Department of Transportation medical card, according to Perry, who said the most current figures he saw reported the DOT “issued right under 1 million — 1 million — 90-day cards and they issued 4.8 million one-year cards. Everybody here knows when you get a 90-day card you’re really on the bubble.”

Mitch Strobin, senior vice president of relationship management for UrgentCareTravel, said driver accessibility to health care is critical.

“You cannot park a truck just anywhere,” Strobin said. “This is why we have clinics at Pilot Flying J truck stops with truck parking to mitigate that time off on the road.”

The first UrgentCareTravel clinic opened in Knoxville, Tennessee, five years ago. Today there are 13 clinics across the country, with two more set to open within the next two months. 

“We know the DOT physical is a key moment,” he said. “Come into the clinic before your DOT and get a health check. See where you stand so that we can help you prepare for your DOT physical — no cost.”

But Strobin stressed that drivers need to look farther down the road.

“You need to take a longer-term approach,” he said. “It’s not just come to the clinic and get a pill and, voila, my diabetes is gone. That is not reality. We talk about practical solutions.”

Those practical solutions can be communicated daily by UrgentCareTravel health care providers, Strobin said.

“We have what’s called a trucker’s health team,” he said. “They get customized, personalized care plans — hypertension, diabetes, obesity, whatever they need. … You get text messages every day, little health tips just to show you’re not alone.”

Strobin said drivers should be proactive when it comes to preventative care.

“Why do you check your air pressure on your tires? Why do you check your engine? Why do you check your oil? To prevent a breakdown, right?” Strobin said. “We say the same to drivers. ‘Check your fluids,’ so to speak. … Why? To prevent your body from breaking down. Your body is your engine.”

Perry noted a pre-trip equipment check is standard operating procedure for drivers. “Do a pre-trip refrigerator/cooler check. If you’re a professional driver, you’re going to get stuck somewhere,” he said. “If you don’t have a good choice to reach for, you’re going to make a bad choice.”

He added, “Safety is Number 1 in transportation, right? You can’t be safe if you’re not well.”

Recharge with water instead of an energy drink, said Perry, who noted he frequently is asked how to encourage truck stops to stock up on fresh fruit instead of candy bars. “I tell them, ‘You stop buying that crap, they’ll stop serving it.’”

Schneider National trainer and driver Kellylynn McLaughlin said that she prepares and packs her meals before she leaves home. “I’ve eaten at a truck stop probably five times,” she said during a conference session on life on the road.

“I do pilates and yoga in my truck and I get out and walk” to stay healthy while on the road, McLaughlin added.

Walmart Supply Chain driver Carol Nixon also prepares her meals before leaving home and gets in exercise the best way she can. 

“Thirty-three times around that truck and trailer is a mile,” said Nixon.

Long stretches on the road can affect both body and mind, and fleet managers also must give attention to behavioral health, said Norman Winegar, chief clinical officer with Espyr, a provider of customized behavioral health solutions.

Winegar said the surgeon general reports that “about 20 to 25% of the population in general has some sort of behavioral health issue in a year. Out of that group, only about one in five — 20% — actually get treatment. Of that group, only about 40% get optimal treatment. So what that tells us is there’s a lot of need out there and there are a lot of these psychosocial issues impacting medical issues and impacting safety and risk.”

He noted that “health care is transitioning slowly, painfully from a transactional-based system that rewards practitioners for doing procedures to remediate an illness to a system that actually promotes health” and encouraged conference attendees to “help me carry the message about behavioral health issues, how they underlie a lot of physical medical conditions. 

“Help me to destigmatize use of these services and encourage use of these services,” Winegar said. “It can make a world of difference.”

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.