Thailand's traffic cops battle the bulge

Bellies wobbling and chubby limbs swinging, dozens of sweaty traffic cops exercise to the rhythm of Thai pop songs as part of a scheme to reduce the number of overweight police in Bangkok. Poor diets and long hours in a sedentary job on the city’s gridlocked streets have left the Thai capital’s traffic police prone to piling on the pounds. But their health - and the public image presented by potbellied officers - has become such a worry that police bosses have laid on free fat-busting classes, enlisting nearly 60 volunteers for a two-month ‘Fit and Firm’ programme.

Traffic cops participate in an exercise programme at a hospital in Bangkok in order to get rid of their wobbling bellies. Pic/AFP

After barely a fortnight on the course, Senior Sergeant-Major Nitas Saisaard says he now weighs a still hefty 138 kilograms, but has shed six kilos and reduced his waistline by three inches. “When I work, it is definitely difficult.... when I am directing the traffic - in the centre of roads, between cars - I sometimes get hit, brushed by wing mirrors,” the 48-year-old explains, sweat rolling down his forehead after a class.

But twice-weekly sessions - including yoga and aerobics - are so far working for Nitas, along with a new diet of fruit and soups that banishes his favourite fried street food and bowls of white rice. Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau wants cops with waistbands over 36 inches to consider doing the course, enticing them to lose over 10 kilos with prizes of nearly $160 (Rs 9,700) for the best performers.

“Senior policemen saw that our officers are too chubby... too fat, so they decided they should lose weight,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sujit Suksamai, who is also taking part in the course. “When police are too fat, they can’t work quickly. Reducing the fat makes them stronger, healthier and faster.” Police chiefs have frequently tried to encourage their colleagues to tackle their expanding paunches by running regular fitness classes including a ‘Fat Fighters’ course earlier this year. 

Slimming down is also an issue of public confidence in the police, says health expert Kawita Kruenjit who leads some of the exercise and health sessions at a Bangkok private hospital. “When the general public see fat police they wonder ‘how are they going to run after the bad guys’?” she added.

Did you know?
In Pakistan, potbellied cops were ordered to lose weight or quit their jobs. In 2012, 1,75,000 officers were given a month’s time to shape up or lose their job. 

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