For professional truck drivers, who are on the road an average of 20 to 30 nights per month, a healthy lifestyle and regular medical exams too often are nonexistent.
To help determine the severity of this challenge, Professional Driver’s Medical Depots – a health care network of facilities and hospitals designed to serve professional drivers – recently completed a health survey of 2,000 drivers.
According to the survey, nearly 65 percent of truck drivers rate their health as fair or poor – with 85 percent citing their top concerns as heart disease or diabetes. Ninety percent of drivers already take blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol or heart medications.
Additionally, 70 percent of drivers are at high risk for sleep apnea. Preliminary results from PDMD’s sleep survey indicate that the average weight of a driver is 240 pounds. The study also shows that a driver’s Body Mass Index is a good predictor for this ailment.
“Heart disease and diabetes are often interrelated, and as you can imagine, given some of their occupational risks, the numbers are even higher for professional drivers than among the average population,” says Dr. John McElligott, chairman and chief executive officer of PDMD. “And without regular medical care, these conditions – which could be diagnosed, monitored and treated – are often left until it is too late.”
The sleep apnea results also were alarming, triggering a sleep-related study in the industry that will begin Wednesday, Aug. 1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that carbon monoxide, from vehicle exhaust, is the most common occupational exposure contributing to heart disease. Other factors that can contribute to an abundance of cardiovascular disease among drivers include sporadic shift work, which disrupts natural circadian rhythms; heavy tobacco use and exposure to smoke; regular exposure to extreme heat and cold; and too little physical activity.
“Even though a large percentage of the professional drivers report they are on medications, 56 percent of them say they have difficulty utilizing health care services at home, with 47 percent lacking a regular health care provider, and 32 percent not receiving any health care services within the last year,” McElligott says.
That is why PDMD is working to establish a national system of health care clinics at truck stops and travel centers across the country. PDMD opened its first facility in Knoxville, Tenn., in January and plans to open 60 to 80 more centers by 2010. Other sites currently under construction include facilities in Atlanta; Peru, Ill.; El Paso, Texas; Shreveport, La.; and Mebane, N.C., in addition to the recently opened West Memphis, Ark., facility.