Monday, February 8, 2010

Click here to hurt your career

An acquaintance showed me a survey he said was designed to help truck drivers.

Following the link, I found a Web site that offered a quick quiz to see whether I was at risk of having obstructive sleep apnea – a condition that temporarily obstructs breathing during sleep. Apnea is more common in people who are obese, and it’s diagnosed after the patient is observed sleeping, usually at a sleep lab facility that can measure sleep patterns and breathing.

This particular site and quiz were developed by a former member of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board – an advisory board that has garnered de facto power merely by its suggestions that many new medical restrictions be placed on drivers.

I won’t link to the quiz here because I think it’s fundamentally dishonest. A couple of CDL-holders here at OOIDA’s offices couldn’t get their survey data submitted after the quiz revealed they weren’t at risk for having sleep apnea.

Also, I believe this survey will be used against drivers.

Just as quizzes on social networking Web sites promise to offer your real age by calculating age, lifestyle and family health, I believe this survey will be used as a justification for another suggested medical rule from the FMCSA’s medical review board.

Previously the Medical Review Board has staked some very flimsy claims regarding driver health and public safety on studies from obscure universities about driving populations in small European and Middle Eastern countries.

What’s worse, many of these studies haven’t focused on commercial drivers, but instead are based on the general motoring public.

This former board member was employed by and has had direct ties to the National Sleep Foundation and others who would profit if millions of CDL holders were to be required to be tested and/or treated for apnea.

One idea the Medical Review Board had was to mandate expensive overnight sleep exams for all drivers who have a body mass index of 30 or greater. A 5-foot, 9-inch male weighing 205 pounds would have a BMI of 30.3, which would be obese.

Tom Weakley, director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation, outlined the national push for weight loss backed by major corporations at OOIDA’s Web site last year. Tom’s blog entry on the subject is available here.

Tom, who has attended multiple conferences hosted by medical doctors and medical equipment manufacturers, makes the point that the increasing physical size of Americans has been met and possibly eclipsed by a national push for weight loss drugs and exercise equipment.

From Tom’s blog:

In 1998, thirty-five million Americans went to sleep at a government-approved weight and woke up “overweight” due to a change in the government’s definition of “overweight.”

Previously, the term overweight included those with a BMI of 27.8 for men and 27.3 for women, but was lowered to 25 for both genders in 1998. How is that, you ask? Because the National Institutes of Health panel determined this as truth. The panel was chaired by Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, an influential obesity researcher.

Now the kicker: Dr. Pi-Sunyer has accepted support from virtually every leading weight-loss company, and once headed up the Weight Watchers Foundation. Can anyone say “bias?”

Because of this bias, and the growing attention that apnea has gained from large motor carriers in particular, I’m going to suggest drivers do a self-exam if they think they may have sleep apnea.

Dr. John McElligott recommends a machine that can be rented or purchased and even used as a CPAP. And a different manufacturer even markets a disposable “SleepStrip” apnea screener for $60.

But I wouldn’t submit data to a third party regarding your personal health, even if such a survey promises to harvest only impersonal data.

In the information age, even seemingly innocent questions may be used against you.


  1. What an absolute load of dookie.
    Is there any way at all to expose these people for the charlatans they are?

  2. While I understand the concerns about privacy and the fact that in most any issue all one needs to do is follow the money, Because of the long term damage to vital organs if you do suffer from apnea I think it would be a good idea to have the diagnosis and start treating it.

    If this becomes a mandate let us make sure that the carriers are the ones paying for it. It could easily be included with the DOT physical which most carriers pay for anyway.

    I also believe that a given carriers response to my proposal would prove just how much they are truly interested in the welfare of their employees but also overall safety.

  3. You guys at Landline and OOIDA and on the radio show tell it like it is. thanks. can you put this on radio

  4. Your medical condition, sleep apnea if you have it, is between you and your doctor. Online surveys, tests, and the like can be skewed by the special interest groups that offer them. Discuss sleep apnea with your doctor, and if any other physician suggests anything about it, truthfully tell them your regular doctor is aware of your condition. Say no more!

  5. Thank you very much for this good information. You have done very good work after posting, this type of blog. It will be very helpful for people, who want to participate. Great work keeps it up!!!!!!!!!

  6. This is from one of what anonymous called "the charlatans".

    The need for the self-checker was seen by two truck drivers and OOIDA members who try as volunteers to help drivers with sleep apnea deal with the issues.

    It was prompted by the number of calls to Dr. John on the Dave Nemo show asking Dave to figure their BMI to see where they personally fell on the BMI-OSA proposed guidelines.

    The webmaster for the site is a truck driver and OOIDA member who is a privacy rights advocate. The only way both of us would get involved with tabulating data from the self-checker was if we were personally sure there was no way to track back an individual who took the survey. Tom Weakley of OOIDA was contacted during the design phase of the self-checker for his comments. He never got back to me.

    I have been a behind the scenes source for much of Charlie's coverage of sleep apnea issues - in fact I found and forwarded the original information about Dr. Phillips' board membership with ResMed a CPAP manufacturer.

    The question is... was this blog an accurate reflection on the self-checker.. or a reaction to comments I made in another media outlet about my concerns about the lack of attendance at the Davenport IA HOS listening session.

    One way to see if this might be true will be to see of this blog comment is moderated-edited or posted as is.

    Bob Stanton

  7. Sandi Soendker, Managing EditorFebruary 16, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    Bob, Land Line’s blog reflects the writer’s concern about data-collecting surveys and what happens when a simple “click here” sends personal health information to a third party -- info that could result in the enactment of rules that could take more drivers off the road.

    As the self-checker test itself points out, data from the survey is likely to be used as research.

    The blog itself pointed out this fact, and reminds drivers that BMI tests and other sleep disorder self-exams that don’t harvest data are readily available online.


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