Editorial

Fit to serve

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The program’s name may sound a bit silly, but the Department of Health’s newest internal endeavor packs more merit than meets the ear and is one enterprise all government offices might as well undertake—seriously. The concept is not exactly a DOH original; other entities, public and private, have applied it, albeit off-and-on, in many pasts and forms. Taken with even just half the level of sustained dedication and discipline that public service strictly and rightly demands,  there’s no question both government agencies and employees would immensely profit from this investment not only in terms of a healthy body but also in terms of a wholesome public impression.

Dubbed “Belly Gud for Health,” the DOH’s initiative will require its officers to engage in a six-month weight-loss program that combines exercise with nutrition counseling. The key to all this is the right waistline, which, according to the DOH, is 35 inches (under 90 centimeters) for men and 31 inches (80 centimeters) for women. The department is taking no chances. It will provide everything from exercise videos and personal nutrition mentors.

The program means to take on the main culprit behind weight problems—stress. “Stress that comes with management work can lead to binge-eating and lack of physical activity that may result in overnutrition,” said Health Secretary Enrique Ona in a statement. “We don’t want our health executives to suffer the consequences of noncommunicable diseases or lifestyle-related diseases.

So we are offering (them) a light and enjoyable challenge to be fit by attaining and maintaining a desirable waist circumference.”

The DOH considers the waistline to be a good indicator of proper fitness, and will monitor its officials’ measurements monthly.

The department already employed a similar program for its rank-and-file personnel last year, with 46.5 percent (362 out of 779) employees succeeding in reducing their waistlines to the required measurements, with the top female performer cutting her waistline by 3.75 inches and the male performer by 2.14 inches. The skimmed inches may have added years to the lives of these government workers.

This concept of a fit workforce was pushed in a most determined fashion by the Philippine National Police (which has now and then toyed with various fitness programs over the years) during the stint of now-Sen. Panfilo Lacson as PNP director general.

Last year, the PNP was embarrassed when it was revealed that more than 3,000 policemen assigned to the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame—half the workforce—were overweight. It also turned out that one of every 10 policemen in Quezon City was deemed obese. The overweight cops were warned they needed to get into shape if they wanted to remain part of the police force. Why? Of course, physical fitness is important considering that policemen have to exert themselves in chasing down criminals.

Perhaps, of graver, far-ranging concern is the insidious problem with being overweight, and this is true whether you are a policeman or a DOH official—or a government employee for that matter: Obesity in a public servant gives a bad, negative impression. It makes one appear not just corpulent but also lazy and inept, if not corrupt. Filipinos have long held these literal “fat cats” in low esteem—with the impression that “uncivil” servants don’t do any real work and grow visibly fat off government coffers. The fact is, people easily equate fatness with lack of discipline and moral fortitude.

This may be the deeper reason the Civil Service Commission (CSC) has been telling government employees to get into shape for decades now. Its Memorandum Circular No. 8, issued in 2011, reminded heads of government agencies and corporations about the “Great Filipino Workout,” an initiative that finds its roots in the 1990s; it called on government personnel to join what was called the National Physical Fitness and Sports Development Program. This particular program asks agencies to allot time for their employees’ regular physical exercise (one hour each week or 20 minutes daily) and for their continuing physical and sports activities—to develop “a healthy and alert workforce,” the CSC noted.

The DOH has plans to start a similar program for other government agencies. Now this is something that the Aquino administration can really get behind, as a way of constantly reminding government officials and employees alike that to serve with utmost dedication they must not only be physically fit but disciplined and morally upright as well.

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