Taxi! CTRI Awards Murray Pilot Grant to Study Taxi Driver Health

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Mikaiil Hussein, the President of UTWSD, and Murray meet at the UTWSD offices to discuss the taxi driver health project.

April 22, 2014 – Long shifts. Weird hours. Constant sitting. Driving a cab takes its toll on one's health.

"Chronic pain is a huge issue when you sit at your job and work 12-16 hours a day," said Kate Murray, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "More and more we are finding out that sedentary behavior, independent of physical activity, is linked to chronic diseases."

With a $15,000 community-academic pilot grant from UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI), Murray is partnering with the United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD) to improve the health of taxi drivers in San Diego, as well as increase their access to health care. The CTRI Academic-Community Partnership Pilot Grant Program is part of a multilevel effort to expand UC San Diego Health Sciences research endeavors to effectively engage local communities.

"Most taxi drivers are working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It's an incredibly hard occupation," Murray said. Besides the long hours and constant sitting, taxi drivers have limited options for exercise and healthy meals, and are exposed to potential crime while on duty.

The goals of the UC San Diego-UTWSD research collaboration are to heighten awareness about the health profiles of San Diego taxi drivers, bridge health education programs for underserved taxi drivers in San Diego, and increase taxi driver participation in health care coverage through education and outreach efforts related to the Affordable Care Act.

The project will begin with a health fair for San Diego taxi drivers, being planned for early summer in City Heights. The event will focus on collecting health data from taxi drivers and helping them gain access to health care coverage. "We will use the health fair as a way to connect to the taxi drivers, launch this project, provide screenings such as height, weight, and blood pressure, and provide information about the Affordable Care Act and accessing medical care," Murray said.

Additionally, participants will be recruited during the health fair for the second part of the project – a cross-sectional study. The study group will include 75 East African male taxi drivers and a control group of 25 age-and-gender-matched East African males. The primary demographic in the study will be East African males since about 70 percent of taxi drivers in San Diego are of East African descent. Study participants will go through an in-depth health assessment in an individual setting. "We'll get the general pulse of the population we are studying at the health fair and then talk to people enrolled in the study for specific health details. When we collect health data, we'll see what pops up and try to respond to the most pressing health concerns," said Murray.

While preparing for the project, the researchers had initial conversations with the taxi drivers about health challenges. "Taxi drivers have talked about how their health declined rapidly after they began to drive a taxi," Murray said. "People don't want to have diabetes, hypertension, and chronic back pain, so the goal here is really prevention and early intervention."

Stress is another occupational hazard with health consequences. "You have no control over who is getting into your cab, where you are dispatched to, and when you'll be dispatched," Murray said. "You have very little control in what your day looks like."

She said the researchers will begin rolling out the health assessments at the end of the summer, and expect to have data by early next year. The pilot project enables preliminary data for a future grant, which would fund a larger study.

Murray said she is grateful to CTRI for the support and hopes the outcome of the project will be ensuring a sustainable community partnership to improve taxi driver health.

"We really want to raise the consciousness of the public and hope that can lead to policy changes and opportunities," she said. "Really, this is about health and safety for everyone," she said.

Written by Patti Wieser


Project Team for "Improving Taxi Driver Health and Access to Health Care":

Dr. Kate Murray, PI, is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego. She has conducted research and published on issues related to refugee health and mental health over the past 10 years. Dr. Murray serves as Principal Investigator and will be responsible for directing the project, including the data processing, and supervise research staff and trainees for the project.

Harvey Checkoway, PhD, Co-Investigator, is a Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego. As a senior investigator, he will provide expertise in occupational health assessment and grant development and implementation.

Amelia Eastman, DO, MPH, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego. Dr. Eastman is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and will oversee measurement and feedback of health educational materials to health fair and research study participants.

Veronica Villarreal, MD, is currently directing the health fairs facilitated through UC San Diego's Preventive Medicine Residency program at the Linda Vista Health Care Center. She will coordinate with Dr. Eastman and oversee measurement and feedback of health educational materials to health fair and research study participants.

Abdimalik Buul has conducted research in Somalia with UC San Diego for the past year in the area of State Building and has collaborated with Dr. Murray in past research activities with East African men. He has an in-depth understanding of working with the East African population and in conducting community-based research.