As a recent article in Science Now details a new study that is almost certain to stoke a good deal of controversy has put forth a new factor that researchers believe contributes to an increased likelihood of trucking accidents — obesity. The study followed 744 newly-licensed truck drivers and categorized them by height and weight.
The results suggested that those with a body mass index of 35 or greater (fitting the medical categorization of severely obese) were 43% – 55% more likely to be involved in a crash than those drivers with a normal body mass index.
The article also summarized the research in noting that “the relationship held even when the researchers corrected for number of miles on the road, geographic location, age, and other crash risk factors.” While the article and the study point to several different corresponding symptoms with obesity that might cause this uptick in accidents — fatigue, decreased agility, even sleep apnea and resulting drowsiness — that isn’t to say that this study is going to be without its detractors.
Indeed, the research seems to indicate that there was no increased likelihood of accidents in those categorized as “overweight” or even “obese,” but rather, only those fitting into the confines of “severely obese” seem to have a statistical relationship, perhaps indicating that this study won’t lend itself to simple answers.
Ultimately, the article suggests that this study is intended to provide some sort of relevant data to be used in the ongoing debate as to whether regulations should be put in place to screen for sleep apnea, and if it is useful to that end, then all the better. But at the same time, there are always “easy targets” for lack of a better term when people examine the risk factors for trucking accidents — long hours, little sleep, the poor diet that tends to follow with life on the road — and a study linking the frequency of accidents to severe obesity is a convenient opportunity to “connect the dots.” But when the same numbers don’t quite fit for drivers either “overweight” or “obese,” then the connection between certain lifestyle factors might not be as strong as it looks at first glance.
At the end of the day, though, any study that takes a critical attempt to reduce the number of these destructive accidents is most certainly important, and it is certainly a conversation that needs to be had.
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