New government statistics show Brazilians are getting fatter following the trend of the country's thriving economy.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (AUGUST 27, 2010) REUTERS - Brazilians' waistlines are bulging, belying the country's image as a place of buffed sun worshipers and lithe football players.
Nearly half of adult Brazilians are overweight and about 15 percent are obese, Brazil's IBGE social statistics agency said on Friday (August 27), citing the results of a national study carried out with the Health Ministry.
Among 20-24 year-olds, the percentage of men who were overweight jumped to 50.1 percent from 18.5 percent in a survey carried out in 1974, while the percentage of overweight women rose to 48 percent from 28.7 percent.
One in three Brazilian children between five and nine years old was above the weight recommended by the World Health Organization, it said.
Rio resident Ronaldo Dias said he believed many Brazilians were getting easier access to cheap and high fat foods.
"We are always having lunch at the mall and we end up not eating a healthy meal like the homemade food," he said, while drinking a beer on the sidewalk of Rio's famous Ipanema beach.
The IBGE did not give reasons for Brazilians' expanding girths, but said the biggest incidence was found among higher-income men, older people and in the wealthier south of the country.
In a news conference on Friday Brazil's Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao told reporters that the latest figures raised a red flag for the country's health care system.
"The current situation has set off an absolute red alert. The rise (of overweight Brazilians) in the past decades points towards the following reality: 50 percent of the male and female population in all age groups are overweight and over 15 percent of the population is considered obese. We are unfortunately drawing closer to a standard similar to that of countries such as the United States, Australia and others," he said.
He compared Brazil to the U.S. and said rising obesity levels threaten to overwhelm Brazil's health care system with the costs of handling the high number of cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer that being overweight can cause.
"Brazil is dangerously moving closer to the same levels of obesity and weight excess as the United States, where two-thirds of the population belong to this category -- which is terrible in terms of life quality and in terms of diseases perspectives and suffering for the Brazilian population," he said.
Incomes in Brazil have been rising rapidly in recent years as Latin America's largest country enjoys a prolonged economic boom that has lifted millions out of poverty and hunger.
The IBGE said that 49 percent of adult Brazilians were overweight in 2009, based on the body mass index that is calculated from a person's height and weight. That is more than the two-third percent of Americans defined as overweight.
The Brazilian obesity rate of 15 percent is still well below the U.S. rate of nearly 27 percent.