British police and press confuse BMI with fitness
- The Daily Mail Fat Cop Crackdown: Police officers too unfit for the beat face pay cut...
- The Evening Standard: Police face the sack for being fat
- Daily News: Obese British police officers face pay cuts
- The Metro: Overweight police officers who fail fitness tests to get pay cut
- MSNBC: Unfit, overweight UK cops could be sacked, have pay docked
- Yorkshire Post: Too-fat police could have pounds docked as fifth of Met men obese
It sounds like straightforward weight discrimination, right? British cops being fired or docked pay because of their BMIs?
No. That's not it at all. They're instituting an annual fitness test, and police officers that fail it three times in a row could have their pay lowered.
The problem here is that the press in the UK (and the US) think that being classified as "overweight" or "obese" is exactly the same thing as being physically unfit. The link between "being out of shape" and "overweight and obesity" is so strong in their minds that they are using the two concepts interchangeably in headlines.
The root cause: Reuter's inaccurately titled article, Obese UK police officers face pay cuts. Reuter's is one of the world's biggest news services, and many newspapers copy their articles without any further research, if not word-for-word. If you look up this story now, some of the headlines are a bit more rational. However, when this story first turned up on my newsfeed yesterday, the headlines were consistently as idiotic as the ones above. This is probably because the earlier articles were more heavily dependant on Reuters.
Based on these headlines, it seems that most members of the press don't understand what "overweight" and "obese" mean. "Overweight" is defined as a BMI between 25 and 30 and "obese" is defined as a BMI over 30. A 5'-8" tall person who weighs 165 (11 stone) is overweight. A 5'-8" tall person who weighs 200 pounds (14 stone) is obese.
There are plenty of people who fall into those categories who are very fit; not only strong, but capable of running fast over long distances. And guess what? People whose BMIs fall into the "normal" range and especially the "underweight" range can be very unfit. So, this isn't about being overweight or obese at all. It will (presumably) hit unfit, thin police officers just as hard as unfit, fat officers.
Now, I don't know the details of this fitness test. I hope that it takes more than just distance running into consideration, because let's be honest. Heavier people do tend to be stronger while lighter people tend to be faster, and both of those characteristics can be useful to a police officer. Fight and flight, right?
I also hope that they're taking age, experience, and the type of work these officers do into consideration. Some older officers may be less physically fit but have better judgement; better mental and emotional fitness for the job. Some officers may have old injuries that limit their performance on the fitness test, or they may have a physical disability. They may be working desk jobs rather than walking a beat. Officers need to be fit for their particular role.
More importantly, being a perfect physical specimen doesn't make up for being a dumbass, having poor judgement under pressure, being lazy on the job, being a bully, being a racist, or any of the other major flaws that have occasionally been observed in officers of the law. In fact, if the idea is to turn the British Police Services into an Order of Modern Supermen* then perhaps these issues should be even higher priority than physical fitness?
Having a regular fitness test for cops is not a crazy idea, as long as it's used appropriately and with common sense.
However, for Christsakes, people. Overweight/obese ≠ out of shape. The categories "overweight" and "obese" are based on weight/height ratios, not level of fitness.
*used in the generic, inclusive sense, of course.