Truck drivers shed weight in health challenge, fight high obesity rate

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 318 views 

John Lex, a truck driver for Wal-Mart Stores, and his team America’s Road Team Captains won the Health Fleet 10 Pound Challenge. Lex recently spent some one-on-one time with President Donald Trump and took a selfie while American Trucking Associations and America’s Road Team visited the White House.

John Lex, a truck driver for Wal-Mart Stores, has taken to snacking on celery or carrots while on the road instead of fast food or other less healthy options. Lex was a participant in the Healthy Fleet 10 Pound Challenge and on the team that finished first place in the most recent challenge.

He was one of five members of America’s Road Team Captains, and the team lost an average of 15.4 pounds in the challenge that ran from New Year’s Day to the end of February. Those on the team are also members of America’s Road Team, an outreach program of trade organization American Trucking Associations, and led by truck drivers who promote highway safety.

Lex of Monroe, Ga., has worked for the Bentonville-based retailer for 14 years and has been a truck driver for 30 years.

Historically, truck drivers “have faced unique health challenges in their day-to-day work,” according to the ATA. “Being seated for long periods of time and having limited access to nutritious foods contribute to reduced levels of fitness and well-being throughout the industry.” In 2010, the obesity rate was twice as high for long-haul truck drivers compared to the rest of the U.S. workforce, according to a survey conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But companies in the transportation industry have encouraged a healthier lifestyle through health and wellness programs they’ve established.

The Healthy Fleet challenge was created to “help the trucking industry increase the average life expectancy of a truck driver from the age of 61 and reduce driver rate of obesity from 69%,” according to the organization’s website.

Fort Smith-based transportation company ArcBest has seen success in its health program it offers to its employees who aren’t represented under the collective bargaining agreement between the company and the Teamsters, said ArcBest spokeswoman Kathy Fieweger. The agreement covers health, welfare and pension for all drivers who work for its subsidiary ABF Freight but doesn’t include Panther drivers who are independent owner-operators.

ArcBest “is seeing great results with our metabolic syndrome and mindful eating program called ‘Naturally Slim’ by ACAP Health,” Fieweger said. About 36% of participants, who started the program with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and/or high body mass index, have reversed their metabolic syndrome “and it has held through 2016.”

In the challenge, Lex said he lost 12 pounds and started eating healthier. When asked what helped him motivate his team to win, Lex, who said he will be 52 in April, explained how he doesn’t feel young anymore and wanted to feel better. This was the first time he’s “buckled down” and chose to take part in a program like this to improve his health.

He said that when he began the program at the first of the year, one might think as a truck driver, it’s difficult to find good, healthy food. But it’s “not really as hard as we make it out to be.” Small changes in his eating habits led to a big difference. One of the changes he made was to drink more water. As part of the program, he would receive text messages and email reminders and encouragement. One of the reminders was “don’t forget to drink water.” He also had a love for sweet tea.

“I had to cut back on it.”

He soon found that he didn’t need it.

Lex said he’s “not obese by any means” but looks to lose another 10 pounds. He plans to participate in the next Healthy Fleet 10 Pound Challenge, which is set to start May 1. Lex has been a member of America’s Road Team for the past five years. Other members of America’s Road Team Captains are: Charlie Demchock, Walmart; Ralph Garcia, ABF Freight; John McCown, UPS Freight; and Russ Simpson, Holland.

“Walmart is incredibly proud of John and Charlie’s commitment to the challenge and for contributing to their team’s win,” Walmart spokesman Ryan Curell said. “Each year, Walmart truck drivers travel approximately 700 million miles, delivering merchandise to Walmart and Sam’s Clubs, all the while remaining one of the largest and safest private fleets in the world.”

“This challenge will hopefully inspire others in the industry to focus on their health and wellness in 2017,” said Elisabeth Barna, ATA chief operating officer and executive vice president of industry affairs.

The Healthy Fleet challenge also includes transportation industry office staff and owner-operators.