BANGKOK, Thailand – Street vendors along a major intersection in downtown Bangkok are familiar with Sgt. Nitat Saisa-ard. Not only is he a good-natured traffic cop who enjoys iced cold fruit juices, but his chubby figure is hard to miss.
The 45-year-old sergeant weighs almost 300 pounds, more than half of which he gained over the past two decades since he graduated from police academy.
"I know I'm fat," said Nitat. "It's hard for me to move around, dodging the cars, but I don't feel like working out after a long day at work. I'm just so exhausted and I want to go to bed."
|VIDEO: Thai traffic cops told to hit gym|
He's going to have to change. And that's an order.
Nitat is among 340 overweight traffic police officers in Bangkok told to shed at least 10 pounds and get into shape in three months.
"We ran a health check of over 4,000 officers this year and found that 57 percent have high cholesterol, high triglyceride and are overweight," said Police Major General Pharnu Kerdlarpphon, deputy chief of Bangkok's Metropolitan Police Bureau. "Doctors blame it on unbalanced diets and lack of exercise and we're trying to fix that."
He said the nature of traffic police work exposes them to more health risks compared to their peers, largely due to long hours in a polluted environment.
The police department had adopted different approaches in its initiative to slim down the force in the past, from supporting sports activities at each precinct to handing out diet manuals to officer's wives – all to no avail.
This year, city police looked for a way to make exercise sexier and more accommodating and found a willing partner in California Wow Xperience, an international fitness company.
"Each gym has terrific facilities and is located in a clean and cool shopping mall," said Pharnu. "Trainers are also cheerful and encouraging. It's a big incentive. It's much better than working out on their own at the precinct."
The fitness company has offered eight facilities around Bangkok where plump cops can work out two hours a day, three days a week. It also designed a 12-week exercise plan that includes classes like body combat, cycling, weight lifting and yoga. And all of comes free of charge for the police officers.
"We actually love programs like this because our mission is to continue improving people's life through fitness and this year we're focusing a lot on charity," said Janeen Lyons, the fitness' marketing communications manager.
Getting 'fit and firm'
Nitat, the portly police sergeant, has been to the gym regularly since the program started in July. His favorite workout activities are jogging on the treadmill and weight lifting. He's tried yoga, but admits that he's not a fan and tends to stand in the back row of the class.
So far he's managed to lose almost 22 pounds, exceeding the police department's minimum requirement. He is pleased that his uniforms are getting looser and his colleagues have noticed his fleshy arms becoming more muscular.
"I guess I can live with being overweight – as long as I can get more fit and firm," he said.
Pharnu, the deputy commissioner, said he has only received positive feedback and no complaints from his subordinates, even though the program is mandatory.
"I hope they will be in a better shape, be more agile and more selective in eating," he said. "It's good for their job performance when they're healthy. Their wives and kids are happy. Their mental health and life expectancy after retirement should be improved, too."
The fitness company, California Wow Xperience, said it will reward the officer who loses the most weight with a free 3-year membership.
It is enticing enough but Nitat said his aims are a little lower for now.
"I don't know about [winning] the award. I just hope the weight I shed won't bounce back any time soon."