Combating Obesity and Nutrition Insecurity in Brazil


SEATTLE, Washington — Food insecurity and obesity have been on the rise in Brazil in the past two decades. To combat this growing public health crisis, the Brazilian government has implemented obesity prevention and intervention programs throughout the country.

Prevalence of Obesity in Brazil

Between 2008 and 2018, the obesity rate of the Brazilian adult population grew from 18.9% to 19.8%. In 2014, Brazil was ranked third globally for the highest absolute number of obese men with 11.9 million. Additionally, Brazil ranked fifth in the world for the highest number of obese women with 18 million.

Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic, non-communicable diseases that affect mortality and morbidity rates, including heart disease, diabetes and sleep disorders. Moreover, in 2007, non-communicable diseases were linked to 72% of the deaths in Brazil. Therefore, by combating obesity, Brazilians can improve their quality of life and life expectancy.

Nutrition Insecurity and the Rising Obesity Rate

Brazil’s economy, which experienced a significant recession between 2014 and 2016, has been struggling to grow. Consequently, food and nutrition insecurity, which indicates a lack of household resources to obtain enough food and nutrition, has risen as food costs and the unemployment rate increases.

Moreover, economic instability on a national level has harmed the country’s poorest regions, especially the state of Alagoas with its smaller federal budget for nutrition assistance. Brazilians that regularly experience food and nutrition insecurity may also suffer from nutritional disorders and may be more vulnerable to chronic, non-communicable diseases associated with obesity.

The significant connection between obesity and food and nutrition insecurity is the lower quality of low-cost food options. After Brazil brought millions of its citizens out of poverty in the past two decades, the lower-middle class became 60% of its population. As such, the one business sector that remained strong during the 2014 recession was fast food. Restaurants and street stalls selling cheap food with little nutritional value are found throughout lower-income areas.

Now that many more people have access to inexpensive, processed food and live more sedentary lifestyles in primarily urban areas, obesity has become more prevalent.

National Programs Targeting Obesity

In addition to fast food dominating the diets of lower-income families, inadequate access to health education, particularly nutrition and obesity prevention, is also a contributing factor to Brazil’s obesity issue. In 2017, Brazil’s Health and Education Ministries implemented the School Health Program in public schools and healthcare buildings to rectify this knowledge gap. The program aims to prevent childhood obesity in 44.83% of the nation’s municipalities. The School Health Program also provides training for teachers and healthcare workers to carry out health promotion campaigns and help integrate healthier meal options at schools.

Brazil’s national healthcare system also launched the “Brazilian Breastfeeding and Complementary Feeding Strategy” in 2009 to further support children’s healthy lifestyles. This initiative promotes healthy breastfeeding and complementary feeding in primary healthcare units to improve infants’ nutritional status and prevent obesity.

In collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Bank, CELAFISCS, a Brazilian organization of healthcare professionals, created the Agita São Paulo program in 1996 to encourage greater levels of daily physical activity in Brazil. The program’s secondary aim has been to increase the general public’s understanding of the importance of physical activity for public health. Active Community Day, Active Worker Day and Active Elderly Day are three of the program’s most large-scale annual events that help educate students, laborers and the elderly.

It is essential to continue education programs and other preventative measures to combat obesity and nutritional insecurity in Brazil as the obesity rate continues to rise. Nutrition insecurity also remains a threat to public health. As such, the Brazilian government and NGOs must provide educational and material resources to lower-income populations and promote healthier lifestyles.

—Ilana Issula
Photo: Flickr


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