Study confirms obesity epidemic in Brazil; at current pace, in 10 years, number of overweight/obese Brazilians will equal that of the US

black women Brazil
Eliana do Rosário Santos Amaral, from Bahia, as an adolescent and as an adult 
Note from BW of Brazil: While Brazilians, particularly the women, have an international reputation for being sexy, fit and generally slim people, the growth of the economy which led to Brazil’s surge to the 6th largest economy in the world is not the only thing that has grown. As the country continues its surge into world player status, its middle class is expanding in more ways than one. 

(Article features contributions by Luana Ribeiro, Naira Sodré and Sergio Toniello Filho, Marili Ribeiro, Claudia Faccchini, Lucila Soares and Cecília Ritto, BW of Brazil and various newsrooms)
Seat for an obese person in a São Paulo subway station

Besides the health risks of being overweight it itself, such as heart disease and diabetes, being overweight is caused by an unhealthy diet.

O Globo newspaper report: In 2022, (the) Brazilian will be obese like the American
Over the past 35 years, Brazil has undergone an impressive transformation. It has completed the transition from a rural country to an urban and industrial society, left behind shameful rates of infant mortality and illiteracy, and after that managed to tame the inflation rates of the 1990s, and consolidated a substantial income increase of the population. This set of factors has reduced drastically the historical problem of malnutrition in Brazil. And it has resulted in a striking change in the standard of the Brazilian physique. Since 1974, when the first survey was done recording height and weight of respondents, the population has gotten taller. The deficit in height amongst children declined from the range of 30% to less than 10%. In the same period, the Brazilian gained weight. A lot of weight.

Photo: Eliana do Rosário Santos Amaral is from Feira de Santana in Bahia. She is 31 years old, weighs 573 lbs (260 kilos) and needs the help of friends for everyday tasks such as taking a bath and combing her hair. Even after a short walk Eliana feels the sensation of being out of breath. Although she has five children, it was only with the birth of her twins that her weight began to increase substantially. For a brief video of Eliana (in Portuguese) see the end of this article. 

Eliana with her family
And that’s where the good news begins to give rise to concern. The weight deficit now affects less than 5% of the population, which is a positive indicator of greater social relevance. But the excess (or overweight, as doctors prefer to say) and obesity has exploded. The Pesquisa de Orçamento Familiar (POF or Household Budget Survey) divulged by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) shows that in all regions of the country, in all age groups and all income brackets a substantial and continuous increase in the percentage people who are overweight and obese. Being overweight affects more than 30% of children between 5 and 9 years of age, about 20% of the population between 10 and 19 years and no less than 48% of women and 50.1% of men above 20 years. Among the richest 20%, excess weight affects 61.8% of the population over 20 years of age. Also in this group is concentrated the highest percentage of obese: 16.9%.
Cover story on obesity in Brazil by Isto é magazine

The IBGE follows the parameters of the World Health Organization (WHO, Organização Mundial da Saúde in Portuguese) in the conceptualization of overweight (Body Mass Index or Índice de Massa Corporal greater than 25%) and obesity (BMI or IMC greater than 30%).

Cover story on obesity in Brazil in Época magazine

These figures give the contours of an epidemic. At the current rate of growth in the number of overweight people, in ten years they will be 30% of the population, the identical pattern found in the United States, where obesity is already a serious problem in public health. The Ministry of Health has found the same trend in the telephonic tracking that monitors risk factors for chronic diseases. The explanation lies mainly in the pattern of food consumption. The POF of 2002/2003 showed that families are gradually replacing the traditional Brazilian diet, rice, beans, vegetables with industrialized foods and drinks such as soft drinks, cookies, processed meats and fast food. All with more calories, and in many cases, less nutritious.



 “More than 600,000 people suffer from the illness (morbid obesity) in the country”

In other words, besides being a problem in the risks of being overweight in itself, such as heart disease and diabetes, being overweight is caused by an unhealthy diet. To aggravate the situation, the practice of regular physical exercise is far from being part of the habits of the Brazilian. 2008 survey showed that only 10.2% of the population aged 14 or over have some regular physical activity. When the data was released on household consumption in the 2008-2009 POF, it was possible analyze in detail how the standard of food consumption is evolving in Brazil.


Photo: Aline Cortes Conceição is 27 years old and lives in Salvador, Bahia. Aline weighs 242 lbs (110 kilos) and is the sister of Wellington Cortes Conceição, a 33-year old man who died of a pulmonary embolism after fighting obesity. He weighed 483 lbs (220 kilos) when he died. Aline has already attempted suicide several times and fears that her brother’s fate awaits her. Aline was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, became depressed and gained more weight more in two years than in the previous eight when she was hit by a car. 

This body of research is an instrument of great importance for the formulation of public health policies. Obesity is a global challenge, which represents the reduction in expectation of life and cost of health services. In 2004, the World Health Assembly, which is the deliberating agent of the World Health Organization, has drawn attention to this risk and edited the document called Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. In it, governments of all countries undertake to implement policies that encourage healthy eating patterns and physical activity.

The IBGE heard 188,461 people between 2008 and 2009.

Other reports confirm a obesity problem in Brazil

Almost half of Brazilians are overweight

Research divulged by the Ministry of Health says that the number of overweight persons increased from 42.7% in 2006 to 48.5% in 2011. Almost half of the Brazilian population is overweight. According to data from Vigitel (Vigilância de Fatores de Risco e Proteção para Doenças Crônicas por Inquérito Telefônico or Surveillance of Risk Factors and Protection for Chronic Diseases by Telephone Interviews) of the Ministry of Health, in the same period, the number of obese Brazilians increased from 11.4% to 15.8%.

Record TV report: “Morbid obesity: Illness increased 300% in the last three decades”

Anyone who has visited Brazil since the late 90s or the early part of the 2000s can attest to the growth of fast food consumption in the country from the northeast to the south. Most Brazilian shopping malls have a food court or “praça de alimentação” where one can find all sorts of restaurants to choose from. This writer will never forgetting visiting  a popular shopping mall in Salvador, Bahia (northeastern Brazil) in 2002. There were all sorts of delicious selections to choose from. 

Food selection at a Divino Fogão restaurant in Brazil

There was traditional food from the state of Bahia, traditional food from the state of Minas Gerais (state in southeastern Brazil), Arabic food and Italian food and more. Each of the lines for these restaurants offering freshly made food had 3-4 people in each line. Then I looked at another line where I saw 25-30 people waiting to be served. What kind of food were they waiting in line for? McDonald’s!!! Yes, Super Size Me in Brazil! So, as the obesity epidemic continues to rise in Brazil, it should come as no surprise that McDonald’s is leading the charge! So which way Brazilians? The choice is yours! Read on….


McDonald’s plans aggressive growth in Brazil by 2016

Network Executive of fast food giant points to the increase of consumption power of Brazil’s Class C (middle class) and promises investments

December 14, 2009


Woods Staton, owner McDonald’s operations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Without revealing the absolute numbers of the strategy, the Argentinian Woods Staton, Chairman of Arcos Dorados (meaning Golder Arches), the largest franchisee of the American fast food chain in the world, confirms the intention. Arcos owns more than 1,800 stores in 19 Latin American countries, 573 of them in Brazil.

Was the best performance among Arcos Dourados’s 19 countries in Brazil?

Woods Staton: No. There are much smaller countries that performed better. Of the large and significant countries, Brazil, thanks to the efficiency in combating the global crisis, was the best. The advancement of the buying power of the class C (1) is a relevant factor for our business. I can’t give numbers in order to make life easier for the competition. But I can guarantee that we will have an aggressive growth in Brazil over the next five years. We will make heavy investments in the country. It would be good to double the size, but we will review this intention every year.

Sr. McDonald’s

How Woods Staton, owner of the fast-food network operation in Latin America and the Caribbean, the company pulled out of stagnation and is setting records for profits

March 26, 2010

Before starting his speech, he opens with a broad smile. And he has plenty of reasons to smile. Principal shareholder and commander of the company, Staton took McDonald’s profits to $ 3.6 billion in 2009, 2.9% more than in 2008. This is the highest revenue ever recorded since 1967, when the company opened its first restaurant in the region.

In Brazil, McDonald’s largest market in Latin America, it was no different: record revenue of R$ 3.45 billion, an increase of 4.8%. The records of the world’s largest fast-food chain in the region are a reflection of Staton management. And the recipe for achieving all these accomplishments in such a short time was revealed exclusively to Dinheiro (magazine): “We have applied in other markets the same discipline with which we perform in the Argentina operation,” said Staton.

 Video of Eliana do Rosário Santos Amaral


1. For more on the growth of Brazil’s middle class and the income status structure, see here. For more on the increase of Afro-Brazilians into the middle class, see here and here.

Source: Veja (1), Veja (2), R7Rede Record, Tribuna da Bahia, EconomiaCorreio 24 HorasEstadão, ISTO É Dinheiro

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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