Overweight Malaysian cops feel the burn
Kuala Lumpur, Feb 16: 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 102-kilogramme (224-pound) Ra'ayim is among thousands of overweight Malaysian officers who have been ordered to slim down amid concern that fast-expanding waistlines could limit their crime-fighting abilities.
The Royal Malaysian Police says about 11,000 of its 122,000 officers -- nearly 10 percent -- are overweight, causing rising health-related absenteeism and costing millions of dollars in lost productivity.
Top brass warned last month that cops could miss out on future promotions if they fail to shape up, and are now piloting a special weight-loss and fitness programme.
Ra'ayim largely blames his weight woes on habitual consumption of Malaysia's tasty but 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 Ra'ayim, 40, who wore a white sweatband and hopes to shed 16 kilos.
The stereotype of the donut-gulping, coffee-quaffing cop, belly straining at his gun belt, is hardly unique to Malaysia. But the problem has reached worrying proportions in the Southeast Asian country.
Zulkifli Abdullah, the police force's director of management, said growing numbers of officers suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses associated with excess weight and fattening food, and that an average of 560 officers call in sick daily.
"In 2015, we had about 200 officers who died due to various illness like heart attacks and diabetes," Zulkifli said, adding that the number was rising.
The issue is symptomatic of a larger national obesity problem, with recent studies indicating nearly half of Malaysians are overweight, ironically due to decades of successful economic development that has largely defeated hunger and led to more sedentary modern lifestyles.