That spare tire could put you in an early grave

| 4/29/2003

If you're overweight, here's one more reason to take off a few pounds.The American Cancer Society said in a recent study that being overweight or obese substantially increases your risk of dying from cancer.

The study is especially important to truckers. John Siebert, project manager with the OOIDA Foundation, says more than 87 percent of truckers in an OOIDA survey were either overweight or obese – a far greater percentage than the general population.

Researcher Eugenia Calle and her colleagues determined that being overweight or obese may account for 20 percent of all cancer deaths in U.S. women and 14 percent in U.S. men – affecting roughly 90,000 cancer deaths each year.

The study also confirmed previous work that showed being either overweight or obese is linked to a host of specific cancers: cancer of the uterus, kidney, esophagus, gallbladder, colon and rectum, and breast.

The researchers speculated that obesity affects cancer by raising the body's levels of hormones – sex hormones like estrogen, or protein hormones like insulin, and insulin-related growth factors.

For example, folks who carry a spare tire around their waist instead of under the trailer can be disrupting their insulin metabolism, increasing their risk of colon cancer, among others, Calle said.

In the study, the death rate from all types of cancer combined were 52 percent higher in the heaviest men as opposed to men whose weight was normal. The heaviest women had cancer death rates 62 percent higher.

That's not encouraging, especially when combined with Siebert's figures on the number of heavy truckers. Of the 87.3 percent who are either overweight or obese, he said, 37.7 percent are overweight, 43.3 percent are obese and 6.2 percent are morbidly obese.

In the general population, the figures are much lower. While the average American's weight sits at the line between “normal” and “overweight,” the average trucker's poundage is right at the line between “overweight” and “obese.”

Help is available for truckers who want to take off some weight and, at least in part, avoid the problem. Siebert said the Department of Transportation offers a 110-page booklet titled “Getting in Gear: The Design, Development and Evaluation of Truck and Bus Driver Wellness Programs.”

The booklet offers tips on nutrition, exercise, family interaction and recreational activities to improve your wellness – “everything that goes into making well-rounded human being,” Siebert said.

“This is something that a carrier's safety officer would use to develop a wellness program for drivers,” he said. “It would also be a good thing for an owner-operator with their own authority to have in their file for safety. You have to have a safety program.”

The Cancer Society said in a statement that people could also fight obesity by balancing calorie intake with physical activity.

The group suggests eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, choosing whole grains over processed grains and limiting your consumption of red meat.

In addition, adults should take part in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week or more.

The Cancer Society study was published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at