'Supersize it': seats widen to accommodate Brazil's growing obese population

Obesity is on the rise in Brazil, and regional governments are responding with legislation requiring larger seats and equipment for schools, public transportation, and hospitals.

Rich Clabaugh/Staff

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.

Obesity is on the rise in Brazil, with over half of the population now overweight and around 15 percent considered obese . With a growing public health crisis, what was the legislative response? Well, for one, to make bigger seats.

[To see how other Latin American countries are dealing with obesity, check out The Christian Science Monitor's recent focus package with stories here, here, and here.]

One of the places this trend began was in Rio Grande do Sul in 2005, when the state passed a law requiring adequate space on public transportation for the obese. São Paulo state followed suit with Law 12.225/06, passed back in 2006. The law reserves plus-sized seats for the obese on public transportation, as well as cinemas, movie theaters, and concert venues. The São Paulo city metro started installing these seats in 2009, with twice the length of regular seats.

Similar laws were passed in the state of Rio de Janeiro. State law 5038 passed in 2007 requires hospitals, clinics, and medical labs to have adequate equipment for the obese. Passed in 2010, state law 5829 requires schools and classrooms for any type of course to have adequate seating for the obese.

Other states and cities also followed suit. A bill introduced in Cuiabá in 2009 called for a preferential line for the obese at banks, and a state law passed in 2011 in Mato Grosso do Sul set aside space for the obese on intercity buses (though the law also allows bus companies to charge more for those who take up two seats). State law 14.720 passed in Pernambuco last month allows the obese to enter public buses without going through the turnstyle, which can be a tight squeeze. Bus companies that refuse to comply face fines of up to R$100,000.

Federal law has similar protections. Decree 5296 requires theaters, stadiums, concert venues, and conference halls to have special seats for the obese. Now, a bill already approved by the Senate is under consideration in the House of Representatives, which would reserve seats for the obese on public transportation nationwide. Another bill under consideration in the Senate would combine all locations by setting aside special seating for the obese in centers of entertainment, sports, conferences, classrooms, and public transportation throughout Brazil.

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

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