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In Washington State study, truckers had highest obesity rate

The study defined an obese person as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. (The Trucker file photo)

The Trucker News Services

1/21/2014

ATLANTA — Professional truck drivers, at least those who live in Washington State,  have the dubious distinction that most would like to avoid — being the top occupation in that state with the highest prevalence of obesity.

So says a multi-year study among 37,626 persons employed in Washington State using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in odd number years from 2003 through 2009.

Not far behind truckers are health-service workers and administrative and clerical personnel.

The multiyear survey didn't draw a direct causal connection between types of jobs and excess weight. It defined an obese person as having a body mass index of 30 or higher.

The results of the study were published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and only apply to Washington State.

The report suggests that some jobs are harder on the waistline than others. People working in sales and tech support, for instance, weigh more than doctors, lawyers and construction workers.

Dr. David K. Bonauto, one of the authors of the study, noted that people spend about one third, or perhaps even half, of their waking hours in the work place.

Truck drivers, who often spend 70 hours on the job per week, would fall into the 41-45 percent range.

The journal article reported that truck drivers in the study had a 38.6 percent prevalence of obesity, less than 1 percent more than transportation and material moving employees.

The study used 1990 U.S. Census occupational codes, which means the following occupations, among others, fall under transportation and moving material: bus drivers, taxi drivers, parking lot attendants, rail transportation occupations, water transportation occupations and material moving equipment operators.

The prevalence of obesity among all occupations in the study was 24.5 percent.

Other occupations in the top 10 included protective services, cleaning and building services, health services, mechanics and repairers, administrative support (including clerical), personal services, technicians and related support and precision production and plant operators.

Among truck drivers, the prevalence for obesity was the same in terms of gender and income. However, in terms of education there was a much higher prevalence among truck drivers with a college degree or higher (48.5 percent) compared with high school and some college (38.2 percent) and high school or less (35.8 percent).

Truck drivers also had the highest prevalence for smoking among all occupations at 34.1 percent (twice the prevalence among all occupations), and among the lowest in adequate vegetable and fruit intake as well as vigorous exercise.

"Working with this information can get a little tricky," Bonauto told Alan Mozes in an article in HealthDay Reporter. "For example, I'd like to say our Washington numbers are easily comparable across states and regions. But there are employment variations, and we just don't have the data for other states yet."

Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern, in Dallas, expressed little surprise at the findings in an interview with the same publication.

"While I wouldn't advise people to choose their career based on this, it's really no surprise that truck drivers top the list or that office workers chained to their desks have more issues with overweight and obesity," Sandon said.

"The work environment definitely can affect one's health," she said. "Employers who make an effort to encourage and make accessible physical activity and healthy eating can make a difference — not just to their worker's waistline, but also to their bottom line. A worker who's healthy is a worker who's more productive."

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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