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Supersized Brazil: Obesity a growing health threat

The successes of Brazil's new middle class – including greater access to jobs, technology, and rising purchasing power – could be the source of increased obesity, writes a guest blogger.

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Brazil's obesity problem is something of a taboo topic. Larry Rohter was one of the first to cover the issue in the international media back in 2005, causing an outcry due to the fact that a foreign publication covered a sensitive issue, as well as the fact that the accompanying photo had mistakenly featured two European women. But since then, obesity become an increasingly salient problem. By 2010, a government-run survey showed that obesity had reached epidemic proportions in Brazil, indicating that 48 percent of adult women and 50 percent of adult men were overweight. An April 2012 study revealed that 15 percent of Brazilian adults are obese, while 52.6 percent of men and 44.7 percent of women are overweight. The University of the State of Rio de Janeiro released a report yesterday showing that obesity-related diseases cost the Brazilian government R$3.57 billion ($1.77 billion) per year.

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One of the sources of the epidemic is the growth of the new middle class and the economic boom of recent years. With an all-time low unemployment rate and rising salaries, there's less time for exercise and more demand for fast food. Like in the United States, healthier foods tend to be more expensive. Access to places for exercise can be problematic; safe public spaces may not be accessible to poorer communities, while those who can afford to often join gyms. Government programs have done little to address obesity, and some believe that government anti-hunger programs may have actually helped feed the epidemic, as recipients of state funding have bought cheaper, unhealthier foods.

Another problem is the high level of sedentarism in Brazil. Only 15 percent of Brazilian adults are active in their free time. The Economist revealed a study this week that showed that Brazilians are among the most sedentary in the world – even more than Americans. Over 40 percent of Brazilian men and over 50 percent of Brazilian women get insufficient exercise, the study says. With record sales of cars, TVs, and computers, it's getting easier to avoid exercise. It's cruel irony, but the successes of Brazil's new middle class – including greater access to jobs, technology, and rising purchasing power – could also be the source of Brazilians' declining health.

Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog Riogringa.com.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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