Diabetes Research WA says it can be impossible for professional drivers to find healthy food while they're working, and that increases their risk of diabetes.
From Perth, Anna Vidot reports.
ANNA VIDOT: Food fashions come and go, but at roadhouses around the country, some dishes never go out of style.
DAVID: Prime [steak], chips and salad, and mainly hamburgers and steak burgers for takeaways.
ANNA VIDOT: David manages the Yellowdine Roadhouse, west of Kalgoorlie. Long-haul truck drivers on their way between Perth and the eastern capitals are regular guests, and he says some do seek out healthy food.
DAVID: We have healthy choices, sometimes we can just do, if they ask for salads, people ask for chicken and salad or just ham and salad or just salad by itself.
ANNA VIDOT: Do many people ask for salads?
DAVID: Yeah, a number of people do.
ANNA VIDOT: But Diabetes Research WA's Sherl Westlund is concerned that all too often, healthy food just isn't an option for long-haul truck drivers.
SHERL WESTLUND: If you've spent more than 24 hours on the road, or 48 hours on the road in Western Australia or outback anywhere, you'll understand that most of the food that's on offer is of high fat content, there are no healthy choices, or if there are they're very minimal, so that balance is not there.
ANNA VIDOT: Now, Diabetes Research WA has teamed up with peak industry group, the WA Road Transport Association, in an effort to overhaul roadhouse menus around the state.
SHERL WESTLUND: What we want to do is to encourage a whole of industry approach, so that we've got good choices for our transport operators, we've organisations like us doing research to try and reduce the incidence of diabetes or the complications from diabetes, and we want people to realise that 60 per cent of type 2 diabetes is preventable, so that's really powerful information. And if that can be just a change in exercise and a change in food choices, then that's fantastic.
But these transport industry guys have got to have the choices available, and that's the issue I think that is a real concern, that the choices aren't there. So a lot of our health promotions are difficult to pick up if those choices aren't there.
ANNA VIDOT: The Road Transport Association's Haydn Hample agrees that giving drivers healthier food options at truckstops is a priority.
HAYDN HAMPLE: A lot of them are restricted by where they can go to eat due to the nature of their work. They can't obviously be driving big trucks around through little streets trying to find nice little cafes to go to.
ANNA VIDOT: But he says improving drivers' diets isn't just about what's on the menu.
HAYDN HAMPLE: It's a culture change. So truckies typically, a lot of them love that greasy type of food that you generally associate with truckstops, so it's always going to be a bit of a challenge changing people's mindsets.
So that's what we want to do, get the message out there to the industry that there can be options out there. So firstly get those options available for the drivers, and then change the mindsets of the drivers to eat it.
ANNA VIDOT: It's a plan that has the full-throated support of the Transport Workers Union's assistant secretary for WA, Paul Aslan.
PAUL ASLAN: We would support that initiative 100 per cent. We think it's a good idea. There's a large percentage of truck drivers on long distance work that do suffer from diabetes and unfortunately, the way things are at the moment, the food on the road's not the best.
You know some will prefer the chips on the gravy, but others will prefer something that's a bit more healthy, you know. But if it's not there they can't get it either way.
You know, but I think we do need to educate them and we need to do more on that.
ANNA VIDOT: Diabetes Research WA says the disease already costs the Australian economy $6 billion each year, and Sherl Westlund says the number of Australians living with diabetes is projected to increase quickly over the next 20 years, from 1.8 million now, to more than three million.
SHERL WESTLUND: I would say that diabetes is one of the most challenging health issues of the 21st century. And with type 2 diabetes making up the majority of the incidence of diabetes, it's important that we focus on type 2 diabetes as well.
MARK COLVIN: Sherl Westlund from Diabetes Research WA, ending Anna Vidot's report