According to the recent International Study of Child Obesity, 39 percent of children in Brazil are obese or overweight, a frightening statistic for many of the countrys health officials.
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The study, reported by Fox News Latino, showed that the rate of childhood obesity in the South American country had risen 1000 percent over the past 40 years. A recent documentary, Way Beyond Weight, also highlighted Brazil as a special country of concern in the fight against obesity at a young age.
Though Brazil stands out, many Latin American countries are struggling with childhood obesity. According to The Food and Agricultural Organisation, a UN agency, Latin America and the Caribbean is the most overweight area of the developing world.
Details of the Study
Brazilian research and physician Victor Rodriguez Matsudo, who is one of the recent studys authors, is concerned that the childhood obesity trend will only increase in his country.
He noted that researchers found decreasing levels of activity with decreasing ages: teenagers were more active than pre-teens, and pre-teens were more active than elementary schoolers. In his view, that correlation is likely to lead to a heavier population in the near future, as young children spend more time sitting in front of screens than running around outside.
He worries that parents who allow their children to disregard exercise are condemning the children of the future because if they dont feel pleasure in physical activity at their age, how are they going to feel when theyre adults?
In speaking about the Brazilian governments reaction to childhood obesity, Matsudo said that the national regulation aimed at putting healthy food in schools doesnt work.
Add to that trend toward sedentary lifestyles a trend toward unhealthy foods, and its not hard to see why the country is fighting with childhood obesity. According to The Economist, the amount of sweets and junk food consumed in Brazil has risen by 500 percent in the last 30 years. Unless that changes, researchers like Matsudo dont see childrens health improving.
The study surveyed a number of other countries around the world, as well: while the Brazilian study was headquartered in São Paulo, researchers also surveyed children in Bogotá, Colombia; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Porto, Portugal; and eight other cities and countries.
Documenting the Epidemic
Two years prior to the study, production company Maria Farinha Filmes documented Brazils childhood obesity epidemic in the documentary Way Beyond Weight.
In the film, the documentarians cited studies showing that Brazilian children spend an average of three hours per day in school, but an average of five hours per day watching TV. Additionally, producers showed research suggesting that over half of Brazilian infantsthose under age 1drink soda.
The film connected Brazils growing obesity problem with processed food, in particular, and suggested that one effect of globalization is that people in developing countries are increasingly turning to fast food to feed their families.
A Widespread Problem
Brazil may be at the head of the pack, but other Latin America countries are also struggling with childhood obesity.
Statistics reported in The Economist are both staggering and worrisome: while Mexicans consume more carbonated beverages than any country in the world, Peru has the highest density of fast-food joints in the world. Chileans have begun buying more processed than non-processed food in recent years.
The health problems that the U.S. has seen in relation to obesityincreasing cases of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, heart attacks, and diabetesare affecting those Latin American countries, as well. In Mexico, diabetes kills nearly 70,000 people per year, and those numbers are expected to increase unless the publics eating habits change significantly.
There have been some moves to curb the childhood obesity epidemic, with Brazil laying down regulations for school meals and Mexico imposing a tax on sugary drinks, but so far they havent made much of an impact. As Brazil faces an increasingly overweight population, it remains to be seen whether the government will take sharp measures to stop the trend.