Being an Overweight Cop No Longer Hurts Your Career in This Country

Previously, having an “acceptable BMI” was a prerequisite for promotion in the Philippine police force. The pandemic changed that.
July 15, 2021, 7:56am
Philipp
In this photo taken on Jan. 25, 2021, members of the Philippine National Police conduct morning exercises in their office in Quezon City, as part of a fitness program in the force. Photo: Jam STA ROSA / AFP

Weight gain can be a source of stress and health problems, but until very recently in the Philippines, it could also hurt your career options in the police force, where rules introduced last year required officers to maintain a certain level of fitness—measured by body mass index (BMI)—to be promoted.

The pandemic, which has led to long, sedentary hours at home as well as the closures of gyms and workout facilities around the world, is putting renewed focus on the controversial policy adopted in the Philippines last year.

Authorities have now suspended it after mounting complaints during the coronavirus outbreak in the country, one of the worst in the region. 

The suspension, announced in a statement on Tuesday, came after a torrent of requests from police officers petitioning against the rules. They highlighted lockdown restrictions, which limited physical activities and posed challenges for police personnel to achieve or maintain their ideal BMI.

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“In approving this, we took into consideration the balance between the workload of all our personnel in this time of pandemic and the need for them to comply with this Memorandum Circular just to be promoted,” said Guillermo Eleazar, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP). 

According to a December memo, passing a physical fitness test was to be a requirement for opportunities including promotion, graduation and recruitment within the police force.

“Only PNP personnel with normal and/or PNP Acceptable BMI shall be considered for promotion,” the memo read.

The BMI is a broad—and increasingly questioned—measure for health, calculated by a simple formula with one’s height and weight. According to Philippine police guidelines, one’s BMI is considered “normal” if it falls anywhere between 18.5 to 24.9. Meanwhile, an “acceptable BMI” by PNP standards ranges from 24.9 to 27. This classification is more lenient than national guidelines, which deem a BMI of 25 and above to be first-level obesity.

The suspension was met with mixed reactions on social media. 

Some related physical fitness with discipline and said that heavier-set officers show a poor work ethic.

“I don’t get why the PNP have to resort to the suspension of the BMI requirement for promotions,” read one tweet. “Discipline should be essential, especially in their field of work.”

One tweet pointed to the irony in the inability of police officers to manage obesity while Filipinos struggle with hunger and poverty during the outbreak.

Some reactions were more tongue-in-cheek, while one headline referred to the police winning the “battle for the bulge.”

Others welcomed the change. 

“This is a right move. BMI does not have anything to do with a cop’s accomplishment and service record. The rule is discriminative [sic]. It is unjust and unfair,” said one Facebook user.

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However, the change seems to only be a brief respite from the fixation on how heavy police officers are. The rule will be reinstated as things slowly go back to normal, Eleazar has said.

From weight loss training camps to the submission of monthly BMI readings, weight management appears to be an enduring discussion in the police force. 

In February 2020, a daily four-minute workout implemented for all personnel in police camps and stations across Metro Manila saw them dropping everything to exercise upon the blaring of workout music.

“We’ve wanted to make our obese and overweight police officers lose weight for a long time. In fact, it’s the [acceptable] body mass index (BMI) we’re promoting,” Eleazar said in an interview with local news outlet Rappler in May, shortly after he took office.

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