Minneapolis and campus police seek to shed pounds and gain a new image

Being fit is crucial to police work, but there's currently no fitness standard for officers.

About 120 Minneapolis and University police officers are fighting the hefty-cop-with-a-doughnut stereotype this spring.

The Minneapolis and University police departments are having two separate versions of television’s “The Biggest Loser” competition in their respective units.

Around the city and on campus, the police officers and other staff members are competing to see who can lose the most weight or body fat over the course of the competition.

The UMPD program was organized by officer Katie Seitz, who is also enrolled in the School of Public Health.

Seitz said she started thinking about the idea after writing papers on obesity among police officers.

“Our entire community in the United States is overweight,” she said. “I don’t think police are exempt from it.”

The University police competition will run for a total of about four months, ending the last week in May.

Seitz said she has lost about five pounds, but others in the department have lost at least 20.

“There should be an expectation of physical fitness among police officers,” she said. “There’s no standard to meet on a yearly basis.”

Working shifts and abnormal hours the way police officers do can lend to poor eating habits and a limited number of meal choices late at night, she said.

Seitz said she thought it would be beneficial to the department and the community to lose some weight through diet and exercise.

The 18 to 20 participants from the University Police Department range from administrative staff members all the way up to Chief Greg Hestness.

Since the competition began Jan. 30, Hestness said he has lost about 20 pounds, five more than his initial target.

“I just got a little paunchy over the winter,” he said. “I don’t really intend to lose any more.”

Hestness said the weight loss has been fairly gradual over the course of competition.

Physical fitness is extremely important to police work, he said, because there’s always the chance that “you go from zero to 60 without warning.”

Hestness said police officers need to stay fit not only so they can protect themselves while working, but also so they have the capacity to save others.

Most of the lifestyle changes that have contributed to Hestness’ 20-pound loss were diet changes, he said.

Kathy Knopik, who works in the records department at UMPD, said she joined the competition to lose weight and be healthy.

“I’m trying to eat only three meals a day,” she said. “With no snacking, no bad foods.”

Knopik said the competition hasn’t been as drastic as she had originally thought it would be, and the dietary changes plus walking more has led her to lose about 15 pounds.

Minneapolis Police Department

Officer Lisa Davis of the Minneapolis Police Department said she started a “Biggest Loser” competition with the city precincts and support staff to see who could lose the most body fat percentage during the three months.

The city competition has about 100 people partaking and they started April 1, she said.

Davis also stressed the importance of physical fitness in the work that police officers do.

There are “no negatives to being physically fit in a cop’s job,” she said.

As the national average of Americans who are overweight or obese hovers around two-thirds of the population, Davis said a visual estimate of the department is close to that number.

Davis partnered with the University Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science to utilize the underwater-weighing technology, said to be the most accurate measure of body fat in existence.

Joseph Warpeha, the lab manager and an exercise physiology graduate student, said in a 12-week period, most people could lose between 5 and 10 percent of their body fat safely.

Warpeha said the officers underwent a two-hour lecture to learn about safe ways to change their diet and exercise habits throughout the course of the program.

“I think the key is lifestyle change,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to break the old habits. My recommendation is to ease into it, start with small changes.”

Davis said she tries to update the teams each week with tips and reminders.

She said there’s no fitness standard for police officers once they’ve graduated from the police academy.

“Sometimes other things get in the way, and physical fitness gets pushed away to the backseat,” she said.

And the doughnut stereotype?

“We’re probably more of a bagel society now,” she said.

Emma Carew is a senior staff reporter.