Kelly begins HTAA health sessions with industry overview

Dr. John Kelly speaks during an educational session at the Healthy Trucking Association of America's 2010 Healthy Trucking Summit in Atlanta. Photo by Randy Grider.

ATLANTA — Dr. John Kelly, chief medical officer for Lifeclinic International and chairman of the Healthy Trucking Association of America Medical Advisory Board, opened the HTAA 2010 Health Trucking Summit’s educational sessions Feb. 3 with an overview of health concerns in the trucking industry and how those issues affect productivity and safety.

Kelly said many of the issues facing truckers are preventable ones. “It’s the choices that people make in how they live their lives that really affect what their health is going to be like,” he said. “The leading causes of death and disability are related to preventable lifestyle choices people make about their health. It doesn’t need to be this way. There are many effective programs that have been put into place.”

The focal points of such programs, Kelly said, should be lowering high blood pressure, managing weight and stopping tobacco use. More than a third of Americans have high blood pressure, and another third are at risk; “less than a third of individuals with high blood pressure are actually properly managed, either because they don’t know they have high blood pressure, they don’t treat it, or they don’t continue treating it,” Kelly said. But properly managing high blood pressure can reduce risk of a heart attack by 20 to 25 percent and risk of a stroke by 35 to 40 percent.

Additionally, about two-thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight, conditions that Kelly said can be linked to myriad other health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and even cancer. Tobacco use, which can be linked to some of the same medical concerns, also is extremely prevalent in the U.S. and even more so in the trucking industry, with an estimated 26 percent of over-the-road truckers engaging in the practice.

Kelly cited studies in which trucking companies screened their drivers for hypertension (high blood pressure); one of these companies was able to reduce the occurrence by 25 percent. The company saw a savings of about $542 per employee annually in health costs as a result. A study by Health Affairs, cited by Kelly, also found that in a typical organization (not specific to the trucking industry) medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent. Kelly recommended that companies seriously considering implementing wellness programs aimed at equipping truckers to make healthier lifestyle choices and also enabling them to be screened for preventable or treatable conditions.

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The HTAA’s second annual Healthy Trucking Summit is taking place in Atlanta, Feb. 2-4.