Updated: Apr 28
In the commercial trucking industry, “diabetes” is a fearful word. For many years there was a blanket ban that prevented anyone with diabetes who used insulin from driving commercial trucks in interstate commerce. However, in 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced its plan to remove the blanket ban and begin accepting waivers in its Diabetes Exemption Program. This program allows diabetic drivers to operate commercial vehicles if they meet certain criteria. As of November 8, 2014, the FMCSA recommends that drivers have an A1C between 7-10% to meet requirements for an exemption.
Diabetes can be a hard disease to manage at home, and when your “home” is on wheels that travel hundreds of miles a week on the interstates of America, it can be even more difficult. A 2009 study found that commercial truck drivers have a 50% higher risk of developing diabetes compared to the general population and 87% of truck drivers have hypertension or pre-hypertension. Commercial truck driving is a hard job, especially with work long hours to meet tight schedules and deadlines. The food options along the road are unhealthy with high-sodium fast food being the most available choices. The high stress, lack of physical activity and normal sleep, and an unhealthy diet can lead to numerous health issues, including diabetes.
Diabetic commercial truck drivers face unique challenges because of a work lifestyle that limits healthy food choices and affords little time for physical activity. However, with a little forethought managing diabetes and truck driving is possible.
Managing Diabetes and Truck Driving
Make your medical appointments a priority
Being on the road all the time makes it tough to keep appointments. Often times doctor and dentist appointments are tossed to the side to meet work deadlines, especially if driving is your sole income. However, when you have serious medical conditions such as diabetes, medical appointments need to be a priority. If you can’t make your appointment, call and reschedule for a time when you will be home. Many practices have diabetes nurses or care coordinators that can help you on road via phone. Don’t be afraid to utilize these services. If you’re on the road and need care, check out one of the Convenient Care Clinics, which includes a network of organizations such as CVS/Minute Clinic and Walmart. Convenient Care Clinics created a national network of Department of Transportation (DOT) clinics that offers DOT exams and aims to provide wellness services for truck drivers.
Carry your medical records with you
First, if you are diabetic or have other serious medical conditions you should wear a medical bracelet to identify you as diabetic in case of emergency. Emergency responders are trained to look for these items. Secondly, carry your medical records with you. Most health care providers use electronic health records and can print you a copy of your records including current medications and lab results. You can carry your records in a folder with you or ask to have your files added to a USB drive (or both!). If you see another health provider in a different state, having your health records with you will be very helpful for the new doctor and could potentially save your life in case of an emergency. Additionally, many larger medical practices will offer patient portals for their patients. You can login into your patient portal via the Internet and see parts or all of your health records as well.
Make time for physical activity
If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are many amazing fitness apps available for free that you’d be crazy not to download and try a few. Apps such as MapMyFitness can help you locate walking trails wherever you may be. You can also track your activity and what you eat for the day. Perhaps technology is not your thing - that’s okay too! On your next stop, try walking around the parking lot a few times before you hop into your rig and continue driving. Start with small goals. For example, every time you stop for food or a bathroom break, walk around for at least 10 minutes. If you stop 3 times in one day, that equals to 30 minutes of exercise.
Choose healthy food options
Most food options on the road are unhealthy. The American highways are dominated by fast food joints. If you are diabetic, it is important to work with your diabetes nurse/coach and quite possibly a dietitian. There are many resources out there to help you identify healthy options that can help you manage your diabetes. The American Diabetes Association is a wonderful resource of information on food and what you should eat as a diabetic. It is important to choose foods with a low glycemic index (GI), such as beans, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and berries. Before starting any new diet, consult with your health care provider to determine what’s best for you.
Living with diabetes on the road takes planning. You need to ensure that you always carry enough medication and supplies, such as your glucose meter and test strips, with you in your truck. If you can, plan snacks and meals ahead of the time. A cooler full of healthy, low GI snacks will help keep your blood sugar stable and your tummy happy. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) recommends working with your health care provider to develop a meal schedule to help you maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. Being on the road and working under tight deadlines can make managing a schedule difficult, but it is important that your health comes first. If your diabetes becomes out of control, you may not be able to drive and you could lose your main source of income.
Diabetes doesn’t have to be a career ending diagnosis. Every day, more and more Americans are diagnosed with diabetes – to the tune of about 1.7 million new diagnoses every year. Most Americans don’t face potentially losing their job over diabetes like commercial truck drivers. Prior to 2003, diabetics could not drive commercial trucks, but today you may qualify for an exemption. Eating a healthy diet, making time for physical activity, and prioritizing your health, will make managing diabetes on the road easier - and keep you in the driver's seat for a very long time!