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Why does obesity continue to grow in Brazil?

Professionals examine the scenario of escalating overweight and obesity in the country and list ways to reverse the current numbers

Andrea Levy, Andrea Pereira and Carlos Schiavon, from the NGO Obesidade Brasil*

Obesity is a pandemic. A public health problem is associated with the development of other diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, among others. Although there is scientific consensus that it is a chronic disease, there is still a lot of knowledge and prejudice in relation to its treatment.

This contributes to the blaming of overweight people, the reduction in requests for preventive exams, the disregard for the treatment of the condition, and even mistreatment directed at these patients. Everything that distances them from the help they need.

The treatment of obesity is not just based on lifestyle changes and improved mental health. Still, these components are an essential part of the therapeutic strategy, alongside resources such as medication and bariatric surgery.

We know that the worsening diet, sedentary lifestyle, and damage to the emotional state are among the reasons for the increase in overweight and obesity. And Brazil is far from being an exception.

The latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that our country is the most sedentary in Latin America and the fifth in the world. Daily physical activity leads to the expenditure of calories, improves metabolism, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps prevent and fight excess weight. Regular exercise is part of the treatment of obesity.

The population is not only more still but also consumes fewer fruits, vegetables, and other sources of fiber daily. On the other hand, they eat more processed and ultra-processed industrialized foods, as documented by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) research.

Eating healthy and balanced, as we know, is part of the prevention and control of obesity and other chronic diseases. The Food Guide for the Brazilian Population from the Ministry of Health gathers a lot of information on making our meals more balanced, with accessible ingredients, and by our culture.

And it still has the mental aspect. It is estimated that 60% of people with obesity are affected by psychological and psychiatric disorders, the most common being depression, anxiety, and binge eating.

The emotional overload caused by stigma affects self-esteem. It leads to the social isolation of these individuals, with loss of personal relationships and the loss of pleasure in performing everyday activities. In this way, psychological follow-up is also part of the treatment of the condition.

The higher the body mass index (BMI), the more likely they will suffer from mental health problems, fewer years of schooling, lower wages, and lower quality of life. And, in a vicious circle, stress, poor sleep quality, and psychological disorders not properly treated contribute to weight gain and worsening health status.

The complexity of obesity requires creative and daring measures from society to reach 2030 with lower numbers than expected.

Public policies to encourage healthy eating and exercise and campaigns to reduce stigma and prejudice, mental well-being care programs, and the restriction of unhealthy food advertisements for children are fundamental steps. To control this pandemic.

We need to act individually and collectively. Only then will we change this worrying scenario.

* Andrea Levy is a psychologist specializing in obesity and eating disorders, co-founder and president of the NGO Obesidade Brasil; Andrea Pereira is a Clinical Nutrition Physician at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein (SP) and co-founder and coordinator of the NGO Obesidade Brasil; Carlos Schiavon is a bariatric surgeon, teaching and research coordinator at the Center for Obesity and Bariatric Surgery at BP - A Beneficência Portuguesa de São Paulo and co-founder of the NGO Obesidade Brasil.


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