Why won’t diabetic drivers listen to their doctors?

Truck drivers suffer from diabetes at a rate almost 50% higher than the rest of Americans because they have more risk factors.
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Truck drivers suffer from diabetes at a rate almost 50% higher than the rest of Americans because they have more risk factors, physicians note.

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A truck driver’s life is a recipe for diabetes, and the statistics prove it. In the U.S., about 9.4% of the population has diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control. For truckers, that number is 14%.

Why do truckers suffer from diabetes at a rate almost 50% higher than the rest of Americans? They have more risk factors, physicians say. Drivers smoke more – about half of truck drivers smoke compared to 19% of other adults – they rarely exercise and their diet is high in calories and fat. Also, almost 70% of truck drivers are obese, which is more than twice the nation average. “See Obesity and other risk factors: the national survey of U.S. long-haul truck driver health and injury.”

Physicians like Dr. Albert Osbahr who treat truck drivers among other patients, say they’re taken aback when drivers are surprised when they’re disqualified.  “They have numbers that are high and wonder why we might give them short cards or might actually, in some cases, disqualify them when their numbers are 450 or 500. They’ll look at me in disbelief and say: ‘Why would you do that?’ I say, ‘This is not stable. This is not safe.'”

The American Diabetes Association recommends aiming for a blood sugar level between 70 to 130 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) before meals and less than 180 mg/dl one to two hours after a meal. Fasting before a blood test gives the most accurate reading.

About 90 to 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2, a condition in which your body doesn’t use insulin properly, a malady also known as ‘insulin resistance.’  Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to produce sugar from carbohydrates in food. This sugar (glucose) gives you energy which is why one of the first signs of diabetes is fatigue.

Osbahr knows that treating diabetes, especially in truckers, is an uphill battle. “The biggest problem I find is a lot of guys not taking care of themselves… It is hard for us as humans to stay disciplined in a way to take care of ourselves and truckers are no different than the rest of us non-truckers. Motivation seems to come only when bad things happen to our health. Plus, most of the truckers are men and we, as men, do not keep up on our health like we should.”

Unfortunately, he sees truck drivers and diabetes as indicative of our nation’s future. “We’re not talking about just truckers who are a window into what our culture is doing. Our culture has gotten heavier and truckers are at the extreme.”

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