You’ve probably seen, heard, or actually perused some of the obesity report recently published by two public interest groups, Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
Now, the whole subject of obesity gets a lot of folks riled up and rightly so because – let’s face it – all sorts of strange government policy efforts are being ginned up in the name of public health, such as New York City’s initiative to ban oversized servings of sugary drinks.
Yet the scale of America’s obesity problem is shocking if even some of the findings within this recent report – entitled F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012 – are close to correct.
Take for example some of these frightening stats:
These scary numbers offer grim portents for the trucking industry because – let’s face this as well – piloting a big rig is one requiring long hours (11 hours per day according to the current rules) engaged in a largely sedentary occupation.
Indeed, in a recent post in this space I noted that the physical fitness and overall health of the aging truck driver population in the U.S. continues to concern industry experts simply because fitness relates strongly to job performance; something Rebecca Brewster, president & CEO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) touched on in an interview with me not long ago.
“Certainly, the more physically fit and healthy drivers are, the more alert and less fatigued they are,” she explained. “Being physically fit also makes them less susceptible to injury as an increased fitness level gives them more body strength and flexibility – critical aspects when loading and unloading trailers, for example.”
Yet the overall prognosis for truck drivers isn’t good. Brewster noted a couple of years ago that research indicated some 55% of truck drivers are overweight and more than 50% smoke, compared to a national overall average of 20.9% and 25%, respectively. What those numbers are now I don't know, but one would hope they'd be better, not worse.
Now, however, with obesity levels projected to rise dramatically among the general population over the next 18 years, there may certainly be further impact upon the health and wellness of truck drivers – if, of course, nothing is done to address the problem.
Don’t forget this salient fact, either: there are big dollars at stake here in terms of how obesity affects health care costs. And one of the things being touted in one of several driver recruitment and retention studies is that providing health care coverage is a critical element in reducing turnover.
Look at some of the cost figures the researchers with TFAH and RWJF calculated:
“We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago,” noted Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH. “This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference.”
I’m not sure how “small” such changes are to the average person, but creating incentives to get – and stay – healthy, all while performing one’s job with a high degree of productivity, is no mean feat. It’ll be interesting to see if the corner office starts encouraging – and perhaps offering bonuses for – exercise time, achieving health goals, and the like.
In trucking’s case, though, such efforts may offer a way to save a lot of money, too, while increasing highway safety simultaneously.