[caption id="attachment_142928" align="aligncenter" width="4852"] (AP Photo/Mel Evans) 


As everything is a crisis, the federal government has tackled the newest one -- overweight truck drivers.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the National Institutes of Health has spent more than $2.6 million for a project to supposedly improve the health of truck drivers.

The taxpayer-funded project includes a weight loss competition and motivational phone calls to the truckers while on the road.

Conducted by Oregon Health and Science University, the Safety & Health Involvement for Truckers (SHIFT) program is responsible for a variety of initiatives under the project.  Scientists are “conducting a research study of driver health and safety” that provides free health screenings and other health programs.

A pilot study conducted by SHIFT with 29 participants showed that participants who followed up with SHIFT 30 months later --15 of the original 29 -- kept weight lower than before the program. No data was available for the other 14, however. It relied on preliminary weight measurements, then the participants self-reported weight change in the follow-up.

The five-year project has received $386,985 this year. It will continue to receive funds until March 2016.

In its project description, “Driver health is also a public safety hazard because obesity and sleep apnea increase the risk of deadly crashes."

Depending on how strict the definition, truck drivers number from about 800,000 to almost 1.5 million workers. That the federal government would approve grants to study and improve health outcomes among truckers isn’t surprising, especially as a healthier population means lower costs in health care and insurance.

The $30 billion annual budget for the NIH, and its large reach, makes it an easy target for ridicule. The nature of scientific research doesn’t always offer an economic return, nor are the uses of scientific findings always clear. The 10-month grant approval process within the NIH for 50,000 grants aims to keep quality and rigor high, but not all look so wise under outside scrutiny.