TUESDAY, Aug. 13, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Long-haul truck drivers in the United States have adapted to increasing demands for efficiency and speed in getting shipments from one point to another, but in doing so they've had to push their bodies to the limit, sacrificing sleep and a healthy diet, according to a new study.
Benjamin Snyder, a graduate sociology student at the University of Virginia, spent three years interviewing long-haul truck drivers and other American workers for his dissertation. His conclusion: The job requires a difficult balancing act.
"The drivers have higher rates of everything associated with obesity," said Snyder. "They have bad knees, shoulders, backs. I can spot a truck driver by how he walks. Most of them have a hunched-over, slow walk. They have a lot of chronic health issues."
The study's findings were scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.
American companies looking to streamline business operations want to be more efficient and flexible in how they move freight, Snyder said. And clients and consumers have come to expect speedy delivery of their long-distance purchases and online orders. As a result, Snyder found truck drivers in the United States have been forced to meet these increased demands.
One way drivers have adapted is by gaining insight into the rhythms of their bodies and learning how to manipulate their sleeping patterns, Snyder said. Some may take caffeine pills or shower often at rest stops to stay alert. Some realize they get an energy boost from the rising sun.
Despite these tactics, the demands of the job have taken a toll on long-haul truck drivers. Many drivers have developed poor eating habits, often consuming fatty foods. Snyder said healthy food options are more difficult to come by at truck stops.
In an attempt to eat a healthier diet, some truck drivers have resorted to packing their own food for their trips or buying healthy foods while delivering to markets. Since they are constantly pressed for time, however, these options are not always easy.
Being a long-haul truck driver becomes a balancing act, Snyder said. On one hand, drivers need to stay on schedule. On the other hand, they battle fatigue, traffic, poor driving conditions and mechanical trouble.
Snyder said his research has helped him appreciate the mechanisms involved in moving goods from one point to another. "If I am shopping online, I know now that when I click that 'ship' button, I am putting into motion a whole system of people whose job is to get it there fast," Snyder said. "They are working in ways that are unhealthy to them so I can get things fast."
Data and conclusions presented at meetings typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on the health effects of sleep deprivation.