Obesity, the scourge of the developed world, has now seeped into the rapidly growing economies of the developing nations as well.
One such country is Indonesia, where obesity levels have been climbing in tandem with income and standard of living.
However, a small subsection of Indonesian society -- its national police force -- is seeking to melt away those unwanted pounds.
According to the Jakarta Post newspaper, overweight policemen have been ordered by National Police chief General Timur Pradopo and Jakarta Police chief Inspector General Putu Eko Bayuseno to slim down through diet and rigorous exercise -- they are mandated to shed a minimum of 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) per month.
The rule applies to any policeman whose weight exceeds 100 kilograms.
One chubby Jakarta police officer, Adj. Second Inspector Budi Patmono, who is 40 kilograms overweight, explained how he lost his once-svelte figure.
“Maybe I became too comfortable, having a home-cooked meal every day,” he told the Post. “I once took diet pills and lost 20 kilograms, but it didn’t take long before I started gaining weight again.”
The weight-loss program, designed to improve policemen’s health, agility and job performance, has expanded nationwide. About 300 officers are already enrolled in the scheme, the Guardian reported.
“Some of the officers said they had lost up to 2 kilograms,” said Tangerang Metro Police chief Sr. Comr. Wahyu Widada to the Post.
“There is no strict monitoring of them, and they control their own diets. We could get them to slim down faster if we put them in a controlled, intensive program, but we don’t do that," he added, according to the Guardian. "The fat and paunchy cops can't expect to catch fleeing criminals."
The program has no time limit, nor will any punishment be imposed for failing to lose excess weight -- except perhaps delays in promotion.
As in the U.S., corpulent cops are the butt of jokes and derision among the public in Indonesia.
“When I hear the words ‘fat police,’ I imagine corrupt individuals who like to extort money from motorists and are too lazy to maintain their own bodies,” Dian Ayuningtias, a bank employee, said.
Indonesian police already have a negative image among the public, largely due to widespread corruption.
But obesity impacts practically all segments of Indonesia.
"You see more and more households with obese people. This has become a trend," Roger Shrimpton, a nutrition consultant at the World Bank, told the Post.
According to Basic Health Research (Riskesdas), in 2010, 21.7 percent of Indonesian adults above the age of 18 are obese. For children under five, the obesity rate has jumped to 14 percent from 11 percent in 2007.
"Younger children are getting fatter," Shrimpton said.
"Obesity among Indonesians is a hidden burden. ... This is a metabolic problem in the population.”
Data from Riskesdas also revealed that 70 percent of Indonesian children between the ages of 10 to 14 do not exercise enough, while other studies show that children spend more than 26 hours a week watching television.
Stress, a sedentary lifestyle and increased consumption of Western-style junk food (prompted by rising incomes) have brought the plague to developing countries.
Obesity raises the risk of such illnesses as high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and heart failure.
"This problem is no longer monopolized by wealthy, developed countries anymore," a nutritionist from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, or IPB, commented to the Post. "[Indonesians] don't realize that obesity is an ongoing problem. It starts with under-nutrition and is then followed by other problems, such stunting, obesity and non-communicable diseases.”
Indeed, Riskedas reported that, in 2010, the number of overweight people was double that of those who suffer from malnutrition.
Studies suggest that malnourished children tend to become obese as adults.
Dr. Arya Sharma, a Canadian-based expert on obesity, discussed how poverty (still prevalent in Indonesia) related to weight gains.
“In developing countries like Indonesia, although under-nutrition is still a major public health problem, especially in the very poor, obesity is emerging as a broader public health challenge,” he wrote in a blog.
Sharma cited a study that showed that, in 2007, double-digit percentages of over-nutrition were found among all Indonesian age groups, “with similar magnitude in urban and rural areas and higher prevalence in adult female.”
While 14 percent of children under the age of 5 years were undernourished, he noted, 12 percent of their counterparts were overnourished; for ages 6 to 14, 10 percent were undernourished, while 6 percent were overnourished; for ages 15 and above, 15 percent were undernourished and 19 percent were overnourished.
“Stunted adults were 1.2 times more likely to be overweight than nonstunted adults,” he said.
“It is important for Indonesia to target nutrition intervention for female adolescents, pregnant woman to first two years of life, initiate nutrition education for school-age children and disseminate healthy eating messages.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.