Ideas to Help Truck Drivers Lose Weight, Improve Health

By M. L. Hopkins | 10/16/2023

Research and experience reveal a variety of roads for the transportation industry to travel to help commercial drivers lose weight and improve their health. Showing promise are ideas such as motivational interviewing, weight-loss competitions, new ways of presenting healthy dietary options, and placing more emphasis on wellness and work-life balance as a strategy to make truck driving more attractive to millennials.

Shifting gears: new words and attitudes in weight-loss talk

Motivational interviewing specifically refers to the conversation that takes place between a weight-loss interviewer/coach and the driver, but if these techniques spread throughout your workforce, all the better. The aim is to remove stigma and judgment. (Words like “obesity,” “obese,” and “fat” carry a lot of negative baggage that doesn’t motivate most people, not happily, anyway.)

Instead, the interviewer/coach shows empathy, compassion, and respect, using “people-first” language and talking about their condition in neutral terms, such as exceeding a healthy weight, rather than “obese.” Here are some examples of people-first language. “A driver who would like to lose weight” is preferred over “An overweight or obese driver.” Similarly, “A driver undergoing treatment for obesity” is preferred over “An obese driver.” The person comes first, then the condition.1

Motivational interviewing withholds judgment and does not force an “expert opinion” (“I’m right, and you’re wrong”) on the driver. Instead, it invites the individual into the conversation, to ponder and arrive at conclusions independently. Below is an example.2

DON’T: Use words that may have made the driver feel shamed and stigmatized in the past, such as obese, fat, heavy, and large.

DO: Use neutral words, such as weight or unhealthy weight.

SAY: “I know it’s difficult to talk about, but right now you’re at an unhealthy weight.”

These examples and more can be found on endocrineweb.com.

The goal of motivational interviewing is to support the individual in connecting the dots about their behaviors, motivations, weight, and potential solutions in a positive way.

Motivating drivers: Where the rubber meets the road

Researchers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom have examined the effectiveness of motivational interviewing conducted by a counselor or coach with truck drivers.

In the U.S.

Six studies involved motivational interviewing, alone or in combination with other components, such as written resources, online training, and exercise equipment. All sample sizes were relatively small; even so, the research showed that the Safety & Health Involvement For Truckers (SHIFT) program delivered the most significant weight reduction. The SHIFT program combines motivational interviewing with computer-based training models and weight-loss/safety competitions.3

In the United Kingdom

British researchers took a somewhat different approach in motivating truck drivers to improve their health. They conducted a randomized control trial involving 382 truck drivers at 25 transport sites. About half served as a control group. The others were participants in the intervention that combined educational sessions, use of a Fitbit device to measure steps, text messages, and exercise equipment in the truck cab.4

Drivers liked the Fitbit and compliance was high (89.1%). Nearly 80% attended the educational sessions. The knowledge they gained about behavior and diet was highly regarded, and they used it to make lifestyle changes. Many participants liked the text messages that provided drivers motivation and information and thought those messages should be even more frequent. The only aspect of the trial that hit a bump was the idea of putting exercise equipment in truck cabs. It was little used and mostly disliked.

Six months after the intervention, drivers who had participated in it continued healthy behaviors like higher step counts. Drivers said they most appreciated information about dietary changes, but attempts at more physical activity stalled. Drivers preferred to use any spare time to sleep.

Weight-loss competition: When losing is winning

An Oregon research study achieved “significant weight loss among commercial drivers” through a multi-component intervention designed as a weight-loss competition involving five interstate transportation companies. Once again, motivational interviewing was involved, along with computer-based training, and drivers self-monitoring body weight and behavior.5 In addition to significant weight loss, the competition format produced significant improvements in fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity.

Researchers helped drivers set up a website account, select a weight loss goal, and schedule their first coaching appointment. Within companies, drivers were organized into squads of 10 to 18 drivers each. Squads competed to achieve the highest percentage of the collective weight-loss goal. Website logs were completed weekly. Drivers were coached on nutrition (calories, portion sizes, eating more fruit and vegetables), exercise, and sleep. Individuals and squads were all provided feedback during the competition.

“Our findings support the efficacy of competition-based weight-loss programs in the trucking industry that involve participatory moderate goal-setting, along with tailored and evidence-based self-monitoring, training, and coaching,” researchers said.

Giving truckers healthier ‘real-world’ dietary options

While the just-discussed Oregon study resulted in more fruit and vegetable consumption by commercial drivers for better health, one of the largest U.S. private carriers, PepsiCo Inc., is steering another direction. The effort is designed to improve public health, and truck drivers can benefit, too.

PepsiCo offers this “real-world” perspective: People are going to continue eating chips and drinking sodas, no matter what; so why not make those snacks “not as bad” by decreasing their sodium, saturated fat, and sugar content? PepsiCo has been deploying this strategy in its many and varied world markets for several years. A team of food tasters helps ensure that the changes are made gradually enough so consumers won’t notice.6

For its chips, the company experiments with alternatives that have a salty taste, but without the sodium. Sodas, like Pepsi, have seen reductions in sugar in certain markets. These options may be a while in arriving at all the popular truck stops along well-traveled routes, but keep watch. By 2025, PepsiCo wants 67% of its beverage volume to have no more than 100 calories from added sugars per 12-ounce serving, and for 75% of its food volume to have no more than 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie, The Wall Street Journal reported.7

Health as a matter of driver recruitment, industry image

An August 2023 report says the shortage of qualified truck drivers is expected to double to 156,000 by 2031 from 78,000 in 2022, according to the American Trucking Association.8

Millennials, now between the ages of 27 and 42, are the next generation of commercial truck drivers, but attracting and retaining them in the industry will take different strategies than in the past, including vast implementation of technology, an entrepreneurial atmosphere, and a healthy work-life balance.9

An operations and supply chain management company says millennials are health-minded and want wellness benefits, work-life benefits, and opportunities for advancement.10

If millennials, as “the next generation of commercial truck drivers,” can successfully be attracted through benefits that emphasize better health, their generation could be a catalyst for a dramatic turn in the industry’s image through more focus on health and fitness.

Is weight a consideration in DOT certification exams?

Commercially licensed drivers of vehicles ≥ 10,000 pounds in interstate commerce are required to have a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam at least every two years, sometimes more frequently, to obtain/keep a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC). Certification is required for interstate commercial driving.

A person whose weight exceeds what is regarded as healthy will not be automatically disqualified; however, extra weight can contribute to medical conditions that are disqualifying, such as certain heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, and uncontrolled high blood pressure. Certified medical examiners, including those at Concentra®, may use discretion in deciding whether to grant certification in these instances.11

Excess weight may lead to development of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep-related breathing disorder that can lead to daytime drowsiness. “Not only is sleep apnea a contributor to driver fatigue and impaired driving, but it can also serve as a disqualifying condition during the DOT certification process. Ultimately, a medical examiner could recommend sleep apnea testing to either rule out the condition or officially diagnose it,” says Anne-Marie Puricelli, MD, JD, Concentra national medical director of transportation and transportation medical expert panel chair.

“Drivers with mild cases may be encouraged to lose weight or try a sleep apnea dental device. For moderate and more severe cases, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or alternative device may be recommended,” she said.12

Concentra medical examiners use a questionnaire to assess a driver’s risk for sleep apnea. Depending on the driver’s answers, the medical examiner may recommend a sleep study.13

Come to Concentra

Contact Concentra for DOT exams and to learn more about good health to keep your commercial drivers on the road.


NOTES

  1. Use People First Language in Conversations About Weight Management.” EndocrineWeb. April 5, 2021.
  2. Motivational Interviewing: The Obesity Bias.” EndocrineWeb. March 1, 2021.
  3. Pritchard EK, Kim HC, Nguyen N, van Vreden C, Xia T, Iles R. The effect of weight loss interventions in truck drivers: Systematic review. PloS One. February 23, 2022;17(2):e0262893
  4. Guest AJ, Paine NJ, Chen YL, et al. The structured health intervention for truckers (SHIFT) cluster randomized controlled trial: a mixed methods process evaluation. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2022.
  5. Olson R, Wipfli B, Thompson SV, et al. Weight Control Intervention for Truck Drivers: The SHIFT Randomized Control Trial, United States. American Journal of Public Health. September 2016;106(9):1968-1706.
  6. “Pepsi’s New Healthy Diet: More Potato Chips and Soda,” by Kelsey McClellan. The Wall Street Journal. April 22, 2023.
  7. Pepsi’s New Healthy Diet: More Potato Chips and Soda,” by Kelsey McClellan. The Wall Street Journal. April 22, 2023.
  8. U.S. trucker shortage impacts Texas,” by Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi. AXIOS Dallas. August 15, 2023.
  9. The Truckers of Tomorrow.” AJG Transport. April 19, 2023.
  10. How to Successfully Recruit Millennial Truck Drivers.” Capstone Logistics.
  11. What Are DOT Disqualifying Medical Conditions?,” by Michelle Hopkins. Concentra. August 19, 2019.
  12. Why Some Truck Drivers Are Asked to Take a Sleep Apnea Test,” by Lawrence Buirse. Concentra. September 7, 2022.
  13. How to Protect Commercial Drivers with Sleep Apnea,” by Anna Kleiner. Concentra. March 24, 2017.