HAMILTON, Ont. — A first-of-its-kind study on the health of Ontario truck drivers has painted a pretty grim picture. But at least one of the researchers involved in the project wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“My father was a truck driver. He had severe hypertension and he was overweight,” Beatrice McDonough, one of the researchers who spearheaded the project told Truck News. “He had his first hypertensive issue when he was 50 and he continued having hypertension issues and mini-strokes and passed away at 67.”
The loss of her father and familiarity with the working conditions facing professional drivers inspired McDonough to launch the research project, after finding nothing similar had been done in Canada.
“I’ve noticed over the years that women’s health seems to be at the top of the agenda for funding support and for a lot of programming; there was a lack of programming for men’s health,” McDonough said. “Men’s health, and particularly the trucking industry, was not well represented in terms of health programming or attention.”
The study, conducted jointly this year by McMaster University Department of Family Medicine and the City of Hamilton Public Health Services, found that: 82.4% of truckers had salt intake above the recommended daily intake, 31.5% smoked daily, 53.2% were overweight and 48.4% had a poor diet.
The results were the culmination of a survey of more than 800 professional drivers in the Hamilton area. McDonough assembled a research team and applied for funding, which was granted by the Canadian Institute of Health Research. The group then solicited the help of local trucking companies and welcomed Fluke Transport and Rims Transport on as “champion” companies. These carriers helped facilitate the distribution of surveys to their drivers.
“They were a little skeptical as to whether drivers would fill it out,” McDonough said.
But in the end, 49.4% of the 822 surveys distributed were completed and returned. Of these respondents, 48.5% were 50 years of age or older and 96% were male. The surveys were anonymous and those who participated were rewarded with a $5 Tim Horton’s gift card. The surveys were distributed beginning in February and collected by April.
Typically, research suggests people will underreport their weight and overreport their physical activity when taking such surveys. But focus groups seemed to indicate drivers were honest when filling out the reports.
“They know they don’t eat well and they know they’re overweight,” McDonough said. “They know that. But from our focus groups, they just said ‘What can we do? We work 70 hours a week, we sit for up to 14 hours a day, what can we do?’ They’re almost resigned to the fact that this is their lot in life, given the job they have chosen. It will require a shift in thinking, because there are things you can do, but it requires the company to allow that as well, not all the onus is on the driver.”
One of the key findings of the survey was that drivers, in many cases, aren’t aware of the health and wellness services provided by their carriers.
“We asked drivers what they knew about the occupational health and safety programs that are available in their workplace? Only 37% out of 406 respondents indicated they knew anything about OH&S initiatives within their companies,” McDonough said. “There seems to be a disconnect in terms of communicating what’s available.”
For example, McDonough noted 10% of respondents indicated they’d like to quit smoking within the next six months, but few are aware of free publicly-funded programs such as a Smoker’s Helpline (877-513-5333), or even programs offered by their employer to help them stop smoking.
Surprisingly, more than a third of respondents said they’d be willing to participate in workplace wellness initiatives on their own time.
McDonough said that while many drivers feel unable to achieve a healthy lifestyle because of long hours and a sedentary occupation, implementing small changes could go a long way towards improving their health. Research shows as little as 150 minutes of brisk physical activity per week can improve health, and that can be broken down into 10-minute increments.
“It doesn’t have to be joining a gym,” McDonough implored, adding drivers who take a brisk 10-minute walk in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening five times a week would notice some health benefits. For drivers whose home time seems too limited to spend exercising, McDonough said a nice brisk walk with a spouse would be a great start that wouldn’t take away from a driver’s time with their family.
Having compiled some reliable research, McDonough’s team is now looking to offer some solutions. The researchers have assembled a Design Team, consisting of insurers, health professionals, industry stakeholders and drivers. They meet quarterly on the third Tuesday of the month to discuss how to “action the results.”
Already, the group has created a food fact sheet entitled ‘Behind the Grille: Chewing and Changing Gears,’ which can be downloaded at www.transporthealth.ca. It’s chock full of healthy eating tips and written specifically for truck drivers, who often have little choice but to eat on the road.
The group wants to expand its research to include hard measures, which would involve measuring truckers’ blood pressure, waistlines, etc.
“Men’s health is a huge area that really needs attention,” McDonough said. “We want to get the message out there.”