Between 2006 and 2009, the number of people in Brazil who are overweight rose from 42.7% of the population to 46.6%, reveals a survey conducted by the Brazilian ministry of Health and University of São Paulo. And those considered obese rose from 11.4% of the population to 13.9%. More men (51%) are overweight than women (42.3%).
A report on the survey, “Vigitel,” admits that genetic factors may be involved, but points a warning finger at eating habits and sedentary life styles.
“Brazil is not alone in this problem. It is a worldwide tendency. Among other things, a result of people eating industrialized products and fast food, instead of healthy, so-called ‘slow-food,’ ” explains Deborah Malta at the ministry.
The Vigitel survey also found that 24.4% of Brazilians had high blood pressure and 5.8% had diabetes. “Too much salt and fats causes high blood pressure, and sugar, carbohydrates and too many calories is a big reason for diabetes,” says Ms Malta.
Less Smoke, More Drink
The percentage of Brazilian who smoke fell from 16.2% in 2006 to 15.5% in 2009, according to the same Vigitel survey. which interviewed 54,000 adults. That number is much less than in Argentina (35% of the population) and the United States (40%).
The Ministry of Health says that smokers have been quitting for more than two decades in Brazil (in 1989, 33% of the population smoked). “We are one of the most successful countries in the campaign to reduce smoking. The drop was very expressive in such a short time,” says Deborah Malta, of the ministry (Department of Non-Transmissible Diseases).
Malta explains that anti-tobacco advertising, warnings on the products and sharp increases in the cost [taxes] of cigarettes have been effective. And there has been a dramatic reduction in places where people can smoke in Brazil, adds Malta.
At this moment, there is a bill in Congress to close down so-called smoking rooms (“fumódromos”) where employees can have a drag in a special, isolated room at work. Malta says she expects it to be passed this year.
“We need space that is completely free of tobacco in order to protect the well-being of people. The ministry supports this bill and all other efforts at all levels of government to restrict smoking in public places,” she concludes.
On the other hand, the Vigitel survey found that Brazilians are drinking more. The number of people considered to be overdrinking (5 doses for men, 4 for women, at one sitting) has risen from 16.2% of the population to almost 20% (exactly 18.9%).
Ms Malta points out the cultural aspect of many of humanity’s bad habits. “Drinking is part of Brazilian culture. It is an important element in all kinds of celebrations and leisure activities.”
So, Malta says, in spite of the traffic accidents, the domestic violence and the health problems caused by alcohol, people continue to drink.
The three Brazilian cities with the most people with drinking problems, according to the survey, are Salvador, Macapá and Boa Vista.