Thousands of obese KL cops ordered to shape up

KUALA LUMPUR - Huffing and puffing, sweat-soaked Malaysian police officer Mohamad Ra'ayim Jemahir strains in hot pursuit of an elusive quarry: a fit physique.

Panting on an exercise bike, the 102kg Mr Ra'ayim is among thousands of overweight Malaysian officers who have been ordered to slim down amid concern that their waistlines could limit their crime- fighting abilities.

The Royal Malaysian Police says about 11,000 of its 122,000 officers - nearly 10 per cent - are overweight, causing rising health-related absenteeism and costing millions of dollars in lost productivity.

Mr Ra'ayim blames his weight woes on consumption of Malaysia's often fattening cuisine during the typically long stretches of inaction common in policing.

"Before, I took food without knowledge - I'd eat when I see food. So now, I eat when I need (to)," said Mr Ra'ayim, 40.

The stereotype of the doughnut-gulping cop, belly straining at his gun belt, is hardly unique to Malaysia. But the problem has reached worrying proportions in the country.

Mr Zulkifli Abdullah, the police force's director of management, said more officers are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses associated with excess weight, and that an average of 560 officers call in sick daily.

"In 2015, we had about 200 officers who died due to various illnesses like heart attacks and diabetes," he said.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said last month that promotions will henceforth be subject to mandatory fitness tests.

Last month, Mr Zulkifli launched a voluntary programme at the police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to whip overweight cops into shape.

It now has three dozen officers who go through daily workouts and must observe diets limiting them to 2,000 calories per day. Although the programme is only available at the headquarters now, Mr Zulkifli hopes to expand it nationwide.

Overweight police add to the public relations woes of what is already one of the country's least-respected institutions. Police corruption is believed to be widespread, and Malaysia's governing coalition is routinely accused of using the police to harass political opponents.

Mr Zulkifli said the fat-busting drive was vital to maintain the institution's public image and basic effectiveness. "Police officers must be presentable," he said.

"We need to run and make arrests. I don't think an obese officer can be as productive as a trim and fit officer."