HIGHWAY to HEALTH: Trucking firm Celadon drives down costs with innovative wellness plan

Truck drivers are accustomed to logging lots of miles on their 18-wheelers, but on their sneakers?

They are at locally based Celadon Group, thanks to its “Highway 2 Health” wellness program the trucking firm launched in 2006. Prodding employees to lead healthier lifestyles is a way to help cut escalating health care costs.

It’s a challenging task for any corporation, particularly for transporters whose workers are strewn throughout the country hauling freight on America’s highways. Sitting behind a wheel for hours on end is bound to widen the load when the traditional fatty fare dished out at greasy diners and interstate truck stops is the course of the day.

Many of Celadon’s drivers, however, are winning the battle of the bulge by trying some unusual tactics. They might strap a bicycle to their truck, for instance, or jog around it, in an effort to burn calories. In fact, 32 laps around a big rig equal a mile. Dumbbells and stair-stepper devices are prevalent as well.

Driver George Greenwell of Red Oak, Texas, near Dallas, is proof the program is producing results. The 67-year-old got behind the wheel of a rig for the first time 22 years ago and tipped the scale at about 190 pounds-ideal for his 6-foot frame.

But Greenwell’s girth gradually increased to nearly 250 pounds by the time he started the wellness program. Although he beefed up a bit during the holidays, his weight had dropped back to as low as 209 pounds. The encouragement he receives from Sean Canfield, Community Health Network’s wellness coordinator who works full time with the Celadon program, helps.

Canfield phones Greenwell twice a month to offer suggestions and motivation.

“It’s a struggle for a driver to do it when you’re alone,” Greenwell said. “It’s kind of like AA. If you’ve got somebody to support you, it’s a lot better.”

Canfield, a registered nurse, two nurse practitioners and four medical assistants staff the wellness clinic that Community Health Network helped establish at Celadon headquarters.

Celadon is the largest transporter of truckload freight between the United States, Mexico and Canada. It has 2,800 trucks and almost 4,000 employees, about 20 percent of whom work at its headquarters and garage near East 30th Street and Post Road.

Employees can participate in a health screening that measures blood pressure, body mass, glucose and lipid profiles. They receive a report detailing their health, along with a plan to control problems. In addition, workers have access to the onsite medical team that can provide care, individual health coaching, health education and medical consultations.

Drivers are introduced to the program during orientation and are given a physical and offered a free cholesterol screening. Weight gain, hypertension and diabetes are among conditions monitored. U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require truckers to have a blood pressure below 140 over 90. Higher readings require them to be recertified more frequently.

“When you make them aware of that,” Canfield said, “they’re all ears.”

Avoiding truck stops

In Greenwell’s case, his blood pressure wasn’t high enough to warrant medication. But he changed his eating habits nonetheless. He quit eating at truck stops, with the exception of an occasional weekend sojourn, and filled his icebox with salads, greens and noodles. He prefers cold cereal for breakfast, and he scaled back on the chips, dips and burgers. Soda no longer is a dietary staple.

Thirty-minute walks became the rule, but not at boring truck stops. Feeling “caged,” Greenwell opted for walking trails or historic and scenic sites during his travels of the lower 48 states. In July, however, he retired from over-the road driving to deliver local loads, which allow him to return home daily. Yet, he’s not about to quit his regimen.

Many of Celadon’s drivers have bought into the program, too. The company boasts of 70-percent participation and 20-percent savings in health care costs last year, according to executives.

In 2007, 73 non-driver employees lost nearly 1,000 pounds by participating in a weight-loss program tied to the company’s Highway 2 Health wellness initiative.

After completing a 12-week on-site Weight Watchers course, 54 employees at the Indianapolis headquarters lost more than 700 pounds. Further, 19 employees at Celadon’s operations in Kitchener, Ontario, lost more than 250 pounds.

The company offered a financial incentive to encourage participation. It fully reimbursed the $140 cost to those who completed the 12-week course and lost 5 percent of their body weight, and refunded half the cost to those who completed the program but didn’t meet the goal.

“This is not pomp and circumstance,” Celadon Chairman Steve Russell said. “This is truly reality.”

Overall, the trucking industry is beginning to embrace the benefits of health and fitness programs. The U.S. DOT launched a program in 1995 to research driver alertness, fatigue, health, wellness and fitness. But recently, the study shifted its sights to health, wellness and fitness.

The Gettin’ in Gear wellness program launched in 2002 by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the American Transportation Research Institute prompted the switch. The course was offered to trucking companies until 2006.

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of commercial truck drivers are regular tobacco users-about double the national average of smoking adults in the United States, according to the Georgia-based ATRI. Moreover, 40 percent are believed to be overweight.

Truckers are notorious for poor eating habits. And before the Gettin’ in Gear program, it was estimated that just 10 percent of drivers exercised; however, industry experts doubt the figure was even that high.

Those types of sobering statistics have caught the attention of trucking firms and prompted them to take wellness seriously.

They might have a long road in front of them, but Rebecca Brewster, president and CEO of ATRI, is encouraged. “There’s a very good awareness on the part of the industry that they need to take care of their most valuable assets-their employees and, in particular, their drivers,” she said.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}