The Canadian Press An overweight person is shown in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., May 12, 2005.

It’s hard enough to attract recruits to the Canadian military or police forces without worrying about fitness.

An internal Defence Department audit released last year noted that “fitness and education levels of recruits in the last five years have been slightly lower than in the past,” when compounded with other factors such as mobility, changing career expectations and an aging workforce.

Recent reports show that American police and armed forces are struggling to find new recruits who satisfy the weight restriction.

It’s slowly becoming the case in Canada too. The Canadian Forces have been adapting their application process to accommodate its changing applicant pool.

In 2006, the military eliminated the Canadian Forces Applicant Physical Fitness Test as a pre-enrolment screening process, with some exceptions.

Instead of a physical test right off the bat, the evaluation is done once they’ve been admitted to basic training. The three per cent that fail are not disqualified — rather, they are given the option to join the 90-day Warrior Fitness Training Program.

Recruits who get in shape within the 90 days are returned to basic training.

But the changes don’t necessarily mean the Canadian Forces are lowering their standards to bring in more recruits, according to Christian Leuprecht, a Royal Military College and Queen’s University professor who has spent years studying military demographics and recruitment.

“I think it’s important to realize — just like the way companies can’t expect the people who wander through the front door to have all the skills that a company might need and that a company invests in training — the

Armed Forces look at the potential that the candidates bring rather than necessarily candidates that already have all the physical attributes that the organization is looking for,” he said.

- Phoebe Ho/For Metro

Uncle Sam wants you … to lose some weight

​Stew squat

Former Navy SEAL turned fitness instructor Stew Smith putspolice officers through a squatting exercise. ​Courtesy Stew Smith.

Recently Mike Harper ran into the wife of a police officer friend on a Dallas street.

“She told me she was worried about his safety because his colleagues are overweight,” he recalls.

The wife had good reason to be concerned. Even though American police officers should be fitter than average, a comprehensive study reports that they’re less fit than half of the population.

“They have to be able to crawl and run,” notes Harper, a fitness educator in charge of police and military programs at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.

“These are not tasks that you do every day, but it’s critical that you’re able to do them. It’s like using a firearm. You don’t need it every day, but when you do need it, it’s essential that you know how.”

And police officers are not the only ones with a weight problem. According to Lt.-Gen. Mark Hertling, no less than 75 per cent of civilians wanting to join the U.S. Army are ineligible due to being overweight.

And “of the 25 per cent that could join, what we found was 65 per cent could not pass the (physical training) test on the first day,” he said in a speech.

“Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll. These are the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.”

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, between 1959 and 2008 the percentage of men who were ineligible for military service because of their weight doubled, while the percentage of ineligible women tripled.

Even though Hollywood portrays army physical training as extremely gruelling, the fitness test for new soldiers is surprisingly low.

“Fifty push-ups, 40 sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run in less than 10 minutes,” notes Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL who now runs a fitness company for soldiers and officers.

Now armed forces and law-enforcement agencies are getting serious about fitness, enlisting companies like Smith’s and the Cooper Institute to train their staff. Some, like the British Army, have even developed apps to help applicants get fit. In fact, many former elite soldiers have discovered a business niche in fitness companies.

However, fitness apps won’t really make a difference, observes Smith.

“The police and military do their best with what society brings them, but this is a society-wide problem. A financially struggling population will keep eating crappy, inexpensive food.”

- Elisabeth Braw/Metro

Russian police force goes on a diet

In recent years, Russia’s much-maligned police force has been trying to revamp its image, including tackling obesity among officers.

“The fat and paunchy will not get through,” former interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said in 2011.

The force was literally slimmed down by 20 per cent. Police are now obliged to pass physical tests, with top performers getting a bonus salary.

- Evgeniy Moruz/Metro

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