Trucks at Work

If recruiting drivers wasn’t hard enough already …

Trying to solve the ongoing truck driver shortage may have just gotten more difficult, thanks to a new study released at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research this week.

Not only must the trucking industry wrestle with how to make pay, home time, and work conditions more attractive for the “next generation” of big rig operators, it’ll now have to deal with the perception that driving a truck for long stretches can lead to a significant increase in the risk of certain kinds of colon-related cancers in men. Let's see how your recruiting specialists handle THAT one.

Here’s the key thing though: this study – conducted by Christine Sardo Molmenti, Ph.D., M.P.H., a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York – determined that sedentary behavior boosts the risks of colorectal cancer, not driving a truck per se.

Of course, though, since one must SIT to drive a truck, it follows that truck drivers are in that “high risk” category – as many general media stories are now pointing out.

“Sedentary behavior is emerging as a risk factor for poor health,” she explained. “Even among those who fulfill daily recommendations for physical activity, lengthy periods of sedentary behavior have been associated with early morbidity and mortality, leading to the ‘active couch potato’ paradigm.”

Sardo Molmenti noted that the majority of colorectal cancers arise from precursors called colorectal adenomatous polyps, or colorectal adenomas, which can be removed during a colonoscopy.

And though there is extensive evidence supporting an association between higher overall levels of physical activity and reduced risk of colorectal cancer, she pointed out that few studies have focused on the impact of sedentary behavior on colorectal cancer risk.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to specifically investigate the association between sedentary behavior and recurrence of colorectal adenomas,” she said.

Sardo Molmenti said her team performed a pooled analysis of participants of two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III clinical trials conducted at the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health: The Wheat Bran Fiber Study and the Ursodeoxycholic Acid Trial.

All participants in the trials had one or more colorectal adenomas removed during a colonoscopy conducted in the six months prior to their trial enrollment. Among the participants were 1,730 who had completed a self-administered questionnaire that included questions about leisure, recreational, household, and other categories of activity at enrollment, and had undergone a follow-up colonoscopy, she pointed out.

When the researchers analyzed all the data together, they found no association between activity type and colorectal adenoma recurrence, Sardo Molmenti said.

However, when they examined the data for men and women separately, they found that men who reported spending more than 11.38 hours a day engaged in sedentary behaviors – such as writing, typing or working on a computer, and reading – were 45% more likely to experience colorectal adenoma recurrence compared with men who spent fewer than 6.9 sedentary hours a day.

[Um … WRITERS??!! Guess I myself am now on the “hot seat” where such cancers are concerned, too. Uh oh!]

Interestingly, Sardo Molmenti no association between sedentary time and colorectal adenoma recurrence was observed for women. Going further, she also did not – as noted above – specifically single out truck drivers, either, in terms of an occupational risk hazard where these colon cancers are concerned. That’s an inference being drawn by others, albeit one based on a correct correlation between excessive sitting and colon cancers.

Still, the research is definitely not good for big rig operators, for men who reported high levels of sedentary behaviors and low levels of participation in recreational activities – such as walking, jogging, and playing golf – were 41% more likely to experience colorectal adenoma recurrence compared with men who reported low levels of both sedentary behaviors and recreational activity.

According to Sardo Molmenti, this confirms that sedentary behavior appears to independently contribute to increased cancer risk beyond the accompanying reduction in physical activity.

“Given the substantial increase in risk of colorectal adenoma recurrence (45%) we observed for men with the highest sedentary time, we believe it would be beneficial to see ‘reduce prolonged sitting time’ added to the list of public health recommendations currently in place for health promotion and disease prevention,” she emphasized.

If there’s any bright spot in all of this, Sardo Molmenti stressed that new tools and methods are needed to better classify and quantify sedentary behaviors so more specific links to colon cancers can be identified. But for right now, you can bet your bottom dollar this will be yet another hurdle the trucking industry will have to overcome in its driver recruiting pitches to the U.S. labor pool. 

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