Is your caffeinated cola really for road travel awareness, or is it simply a ritual? Most people may think of warnings about soda ingestion a no-brainer or a non-starter, but the fact that the sweet syrup exacerbates so many of the health problems currently plaguing the transportation industry should make it worth another look.
Maybe the news that it doesn’t matter whether it’s HFCS-infused regular or zero-calorie diet soda that cause basically the same health problems is what’s so notable. This comes from a study started in 2007 by the American Heart Association. It reveals that habitual soda drinkers are 50 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndromes from their daily fizzy dose. Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of symptoms — high waist circumference, high blood pressure, low levels of bone calcium, low levels of “good” cholesterol,” and other health problems that currently challenge the trucking industry. These conditions have been strongly linked to developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The study looked at more than 6,000 healthy people, who showed no signs of metabolic syndrome, and then followed up. After four years, 53 percent of people who drank an average of one or more soft drinks per day developed metabolic syndrome. Those who drank one or more diet soft drinks a day were at a 44 percent higher risk.
Doctors who treat truck drivers know that getting people who spend a lot of time alone and who have sedentary lifestyles can be hard to “re-train” toward new, healthier habits. Noted addiction specialist Dr. Harold Urschel says, “You can get into a situation where you crave a soda by conditioning yourself,” Dr. Urschel says. “[If] you stop for gas and always get a diet soda, the craving will start to come first, before you even pull into the station.” That can spell danger for truckers who don’t have people along for the ride who can help them stay focused on maintaining healthy habits.
It’s no wonder the ATA and American Heart Association are constantly petitioning truck drivers to choose healthy foods and drinks. Eighty-six percent of the estimated 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States are overweight or obese, according to a 2007 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Truckers are also constantly tempted by cholesterol and fat-rich dietary choices from truck stop buffets, diners and fast food franchises that clamp onto fuel stops and rest areas. The odds are stacked against them, but there is hope.
Now transportation carriers, industry organizations and even truck stops are unrolling initiatives to help truckers slim down, shape up and improve their health. Employers are holding health seminars, building on-site gyms, bringing in nutritionists and fitness trainers, and offering financial incentives to employees who stop smoking or lose weight. Some drivers are cooking in their rigs, walking or bike riding around truck stops, blogging about their experiences at sites like truckingsolutionsgroup.org and safetythruwellness.com, and communicating with other truckers about their successes.