New research finds health education and Fitbits can improve HGV driver wellbeing

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New research conducted by Loughborough University has concluded that health education, Fitbits, and cabin workouts can improve activity levels of lorry drivers and thus bring health benefits. The doctor who led the research hopes it will convince policy makers to implement health modules in compulsory driver training courses.

New research finds health education and Fitbits can improve HGV driver wellbeing
Fot. Fundacja Truckers Life

The study, which was lead by Dr Stacy Clemes and featured a randomised controlled trial named ‘Structured Health Intervention For Truckers’ (SHIFT), was published yesterday in the BMC Medicine journal.

Dr Clemes, in collaboration with colleagues from Loughborough University, the Diabetes Research Centre, University of Leicester, and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, investigated whether HGV driver health could be improved using the specially designed SHIFT health programme by recruiting and working with 382 long-distance HGV drivers from 25 transport sites in the Midlands, UK.

As Loughborough University explains, from January 2018, drivers were either assigned to a six-month SHIFT programme (183 participants) or to a ‘control arm’ (199 participants) – which meant drivers received no intervention, therefore any changes as a result of the programme could be observed.

Participants in the SHIFT arm of the trial received a six-hour education and health-behaviour change session, had access to a health coach for support, and were provided with a Fitbit to monitor activity levels and set goals. They were also introduced to a workout that they could follow in their lorry cabin and provided with resistance bands and balls. Participants were encouraged to maintain the health programme for six months.

The findings of the research are as follows:

  • After six months, participants in the SHIFT programme walked on average an additional 1,000 steps per day than the control group (equivalent to approximately 10 minutes of brisk walking)
  • They also spent less time sitting per day than the control group (around 24 minutes less) and accumulated about six more minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activities
  • However, the authors report no differences between the groups for other health outcomes such as fruit and vegetable intake, sleep duration or efficiency, or mental wellbeing
  • The differences they did observe at six months were not apparent after sixteen to eighteen months – which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The SHIFT programme led to a potentially clinically meaningful difference in daily steps, between trial arms, at 6 months. Whilst the longer-term impact is unclear, the programme offers potential to be incorporated into driver training courses to promote activity in this at-risk, underserved and hard-to-reach essential occupational group,” concludes BMC Medicine’s Open Access Research Article.

Commenting on the study, research lead Dr Clemes said that the SHIFT programme could fill the void in the CPC course left by a lack of health training:

“While HGV drivers undertake compulsory Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training, this does not cover in detail lifestyle health behaviours. The SHIFT programme has the potential to fill this void and to make an impact on drivers’ activity, which in turn could have positive health benefits for all drivers. We now hope to work with HGV drivers, industry stakeholders, including training providers and regulators, to translate our ‘SHIFT’ programme into a mandatory driver training module that will be accessible to UK HGV drivers.”

Dr Clemes added that she hopes the research will convince policy makers to implement changes to driver training to incorporate health modules.

“We hope that this work could lead to a policy-level change in driver training provision, and, in turn, lead to longer-term improvements in drivers’ health and road safety. Over time we also hope to expand the SHIFT programme, and our portfolio of health resources for drivers, by also incorporating elements focusing on sleep and diet, through further ongoing work in these areas.”

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