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The health of our arteries: Heart disease and Southeast Asian truck drivers

The health of our arteries: Heart disease and Southeast Asian truck drivers

Picture of Ritu Marwah
truck on road
(Photo by Bill Bedell via Flickr)

The truck drivers who transport goods from the radial arteries of our land to our doorsteps do so through rain, snow and sleet. Often, they risk their own well-being on these long, lonely roads. Sedentary lifestyle and long hours on the road with limited access to medical care make these drivers more susceptible to heart disease. A large number of ethnic minorities including Americans of South Asian descent have joined the trucking industry. The risk of coronary heart disease is higher among South Asians, as shown by the studies conducted by the South Asian Heart Center in Mountain View California. California is home to the second largest number of truck drivers, after Texas.

There are 3.5 million truckers in the United States and, according to American Trucking Association, the trucker shortage may balloon to almost 175,000 by 2024. A survey by employee background check firm HireRight found that truck drivers in the U.S. are quitting because of health-related factors. “It’s one of the top reasons for leaving the industry — along with low pay and the desire to spend more time at home,” says an article from Trucks.com that cites the survey.

Consistent time on the road prevents most drivers from attaining easy access to healthcare. There is no medical care for truck drivers on the road unless they go to the emergency room.

About 88 percent of long-haul drivers suffer from one or more health issues such as hypertension, smoking and obesity. Stress, fatigue, muscle strains, neck & back injuries, substance abuse, depression and sleep deprivation plague the drivers. Some of these health issues can be prevented before becoming serious, according to Obesity and Other Risk Factors: The National Survey of U.S. Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury.

Large number of American Sikhs of South Asian descent are joining the ranks of the truckers filling the gap. According to the Punjab Truck Association 150,000 Sikhs are working in the trucking industry.

The South Asian Heart Institute in Mountain View, California states that South Asians have a higher incidence, more severe presentation and earlier onset of coronary heart disease compared to the general population. Despite being mostly vegetarian, non-smoking and non-obese, they are four times as likely to have a heart incident, twice as likely to die from it and three times more likely to have a secondary incident.

During the years of 2002-2004, El Camino Hospital Emergency Department admissions indicated that only 3% of the population served by the hospital were South Asian, but represented a disparate 6% of all acute myocardial infarction (MI) cases. Also, heart disease seemed to be striking South Asians at a younger age and more malignantly than the general population.

My aim of my 2020 California Fellowship project is to illuminate and expose critical health issues in this community, and share the suggestions made by health departments to manage this issue. I hope to shine a light on the life of the truckers through interviews of the truck drivers and their families in the Fresno, Stockton and Bakersfield area with a view to highlight where heart healthy improvements can be made.

My reporting will inform the truckers and the legislators of the dangers of not taking care of the medical health of the truckers who power the delivery machine of American business. This makes the health of this group critical to the health of the economy. 

I am thrilled that the project has been awarded a Center for Health Journalism Fellowship, and I am looking forward to brainstorming with other fellows in Los Angeles this month.

Comments

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My name is Jack Souadjian. I am also a journalist and a member of this site. I am very interested in your topic for several reasons: I have a certification in AOD studies and have worked closely with DOT and drug testing truckers.
I f may offer you my assistance with any. interviewing, paperwork or advice I would be honored to assist in any way. My time and professional behavior is available without restrictions

Jack

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