Education for ‘fat’ drivers

Lucien van Zullen, driver trainer at Volvo Trucks in Holland.

Unhealthy food, long periods of sitting and stressful work environments are making Europeans increasingly overweight. Truck drivers are particularly at risk

Volvo Trucks has recently extended its driver development programme to include education on diet and health, emphasising that it affects both quality of life and the driver’s professional level of competence.

“We give them tips and suggestions on how to live healthier,” says Lucien van Zullen, driver trainer at Volvo Trucks in Holland. “It is not exactly rocket science; eat breakfast, cycle to work and eat more vegetables. We also offer suggestions on what types of excercise can be done inside the truck cab.”

During the course, the participants learn how different types of food affect not only their physique, but also their ability to concentrate.

The average European long-haul driver has a body mass index (BMI) of 28, which is just two points away from the classification for obesity. This was revealed in a survey of 2 300 drivers across the continent conducted by Volvo Trucks.

So why is health among truck drivers so poor? In 2009, Inge Van Bogerijen of the Institute of Sports and Health at Utrecht University came to the conclusion that truck drivers find themselves in a very specific and unique situation.

“The working environment out on the roads is an obstacle to a healthier lifestyle. In my study I saw that many are willing to live healthier, but they feel they have limited practical opportunities to do so,” says Van Bogerijen.

Inge Van Bogerijen, Institute of Sports and Health at Utrecht University.The foremost reason for poor health seems to be the high-fat food served at truck stops, combined with the sedentary nature of the work itself, as well as a chronic lack of time due to long working days.

“There is healthier food available at roadside eateries, but this is often much more expensive. Drivers are either not willing, or in many cases simply not able, to pay so much,” Van Bogerijen explains. “What’s more, truck stops do not exactly invite training and exercise. There is often no gym on site, while inside the cab there is obviously very little scope for physical exercise.”

However, improving driver health is not only the responsibility of the driver. There is a lot that employers can do to help, too.

Dutch haulage firm Nijhof-Wassink is among the growing number of companies to allow its employees the opportunity to take part in a programme that focuses on a healthier lifestyle.

“This is a win-win situation where the driver is healthier and more active and, at the same time, we reduce costs,” explains Jogé Nijhof, part owner of Nijhof-Wassink. “We gain since our employees take less time off sick. One day off costs a lot of money and you can get a lot of coaching for that money. If you have satisfied employees, everything works more smoothly. It’s as simple as that.”

The bottom line is that haulage companies have a vested interest in their drivers’ well-being.

“Healthy employees are less tired, more keen to work and can concentrate better,” says Van Zullen. “Investing in employees is thus a long-term and profitable move – because just as one might invest in a safe truck, it is important to also invest in a safe driver.”

Health and First Aid is just one of the courses within the Volvo Trucks driver development programme. So far, more than 35 000 drivers in Europe have participated in the various training programmes, which are offered in conjunction with dealers.

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