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Overweight? You not Your Truck!

By on March 1, 2016

BMI, or “Body Mass Index,” is an important—yet somewhat controversial—topic among professional truck drivers. It shouldn’t be.

Defined as body mass divided by the square of body height, BMI is an estimate of body fat and a good gauge of your risk for diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers. BMI is an attempt to quantify the amount of someone’s tissue mass (muscle, fat, and bone), and then based on that value, categorize a person as follows:

Category BMI

Underweight <18.5

Normal Range 18.5 – 24.9

Overweight 25 – 29.9

Obese >30

Critics of categorizing a person’s weight using the BMI scale claim that variations in body composition, frame size and muscle mass can result in a person with excess body fat being categorized as normal, while others with fairly low body fat can be classified as overweight or obese. It’s a guide; a BMI of 25 or more should prompt you to conduct a self-evaluation and consult with your physician. Online calculators will help you determine your BMI.

Metabolic Syndrome & Sleep Apnea

BMI, along with stress, aging, and a sedentary lifestyle are the main risk factors for what is called “metabolic syndrome”—a cluster of 60 medical disorders and 12 cancers. Long-haul truck drivers have one of the highest rates of metabolic syndrome and the highest rate of obesity of any occupation in America.

The issue of driver BMI surfaced when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began to address sleep apnea. Drivers with a “high” BMI and a large neck were flagged for screening. Some drivers, feeling that they were unfairly discriminated against or misdiagnosed, objected.MA_Health2

FMCSA’s Bulletin to Medical Examiners and Training Organizations Regarding Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) addressed screening as follows: With regard to identifying drivers with undiagnosed OSA, FMCSA’s regulations and advisory criteria do not include screening guidelines. Medical examiners should consider common OSA symptoms such as loud snoring, witnessed incidence of apnea, or sleepiness during the major awake periods. Other factors to consider include BMI, neck size, and involvement in a single-vehicle crash.

Rather than entering into that debate, let’s highlight what I learned while conducting the first ever truck driver Body Composition Study
at Springfield, Mo.-based carrier, Prime, Inc.

MA_Health3Study Confirms BMI Value

From April 2014 to March 2015, I used bioelectric impedance technology to conduct a Body Composition Study among 770 Prime drivers. It measured weight, body fat, water weight, muscle mass, physique rating, basal metabolic rate, metabolic age, bone density and visceral fat ratings. I also recorded the weight and BMI of 2,319 drivers. The results showed that the average weight of both men and women combined was 232 pounds with an average BMI of 33.04 and 34 percent body fat. The drivers also averaged 148 pounds of muscle, a basal metabolic rate of 2,056 calories per day, a bone density of 7.5, and a visceral fat rating of 15 (a score of 12 or less is considered normal and healthy). While 58 percent of Prime’s drivers were rated as obese, that was 11 percent below the national average according to the   National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The combined averages themselves don’t tell us a lot. However, when looking at the data in greater detail, more is learned. For example, the average BMI of new drivers increases from 32.05 during the first 60 days on the job to 33.44 by the end of the first year. After three years, BMI reaches a maximum average of 35.79, while drivers with five or more years averaged 35.10.

What’s alarming is that male drivers, 56 to 60, averaged 33.95, the highest BMI of any age group. The average for male drivers 61 to 65 then drops to 31.00. Why? Because at that age, the heaviest drivers are choosing to leave the industry, become too sick or unfit to drive, or have passed away.

Taking a Turn for the Better

According to some studies, the average life span of long haul drivers is just 61 to 65 years of age. The Body Composition Study at Prime lends some support to that, as well as confirming NIOSH’s own conclusion in the National Survey of US Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury that “working conditions common to long-haul trucking may create significant barriers to certain healthy behaviors—thus transportation and health professionals should address the unique work environment when developing interventions for long-haul drivers.”

Intervening is exactly what my company, Fitness Trucking, does. Developed in cooperation with drivers and suited to the unique environment of long-haul trucking, we offer an award-winning Driver Health and Fitness program believed to be the only one of its kind. The primary focus, improving metabolic efficiency, resulted in an average weight loss of 7 percent and improved BMI in just thirteen weeks, thereby reducing a driver’s risk for metabolic syndrome. Reduced instances of sleep apnea also resulted.

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