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Covid-19 is exposing Brazil’s obesity epidemic

. Apr 20, 2020
obesity brazil Photo: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock

As its Covid-19 curve is set to spike, Brazil is beginning to realize that a much larger portion of its population may be highly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. At first, it was believed that only senior citizens and those with pre-existing pulmonary or cardiovascular conditions were in the so-called “high-risk group.” While that in itself would be a problem, as our April 20 Weekly Report showed that 50 million Brazilians fall into these categories, researchers are now saying that the main risk factor, regardless of age, is obesity.

That means that 20 percent of the Brazilian population could be at risk.

According

to the most recent data from the Health Ministry, 70 percent of the 2,462 Brazilian patients <a href="https://saude.gov.br/images/pdf/2020/April/19/19.02.2020%20-%20COVID%20-%20ATUALIZACAO%20DE%20VIGILANCIA%20EPIDEMIOLOGICA.pdf">who died from Covid-19</a> as of April 19 had at least one additional disease that aggravated their condition. While heart diseases are the most lethal, obesity is the only risk factor that kills more people under 60 years old.</p> <p>That can be explained by the fact that obese people have a <a href="https://saude.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,obesidade-e-o-principal-fator-de-risco-nas-vitimas-com-menos-de-60-anos,70003276317">natural inflammatory process</a> in their bodies caused an excess of fat, which is then aggravated further by the severe inflammation caused by Covid-19. Moreover, obese individuals tend to have reduced lung capacity, as an excess of fat can cause pressure on the ribcage, diminishing the space lungs have to expand.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, a study published by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation shows that obesity-related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes may put 33 percent of Brazilians at a state of risk. Such a high proportion of potentially vulnerable people poses a strong argument against the “vertical isolation” strategy supported by President Jair Bolsonaro, by which only those over 60 years old or with heart or lung conditions would remain isolated, with the rest of the population going back to work.&nbsp;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1079003"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1079003-40-brazil-s-crackdown-on-sugar.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-1079003&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>How bad is the obesity problem in Brazil?</h2> <p>Data from <a href="https://www.saude.gov.br/noticias/agencia-saude/45612-brasileiros-atingem-maior-indice-de-obesidade-nos-ultimos-treze-anos">Vigitel research</a> by the Brazilian Health Ministry pointed out that, as of 2018, 19.8 percent of Brazilians were obese, a 67.8-percent increase from 2006 levels. Expanding the data to include overweight individuals, the number reaches a staggering 55 percent of the population.</p> <p>The growth was steeper among adults between 25 and 44 years old, where obesity ratios increased by more than 80 percent. As of 2018, obesity was the fourth most common cause for hospitalization due to endocrinal, metabolic or nutritional issues in Brazil, with 12,438 patients, costing BRL 64.3 million.</p> <p>Over the last decade, public health strategies managed to increase the number of Brazilians exercising in their free time by 25.7 percent, while the consumption of sugary drinks dropped by more than half.&nbsp;</p> <p>With these results, Brazil managed to either achieve or maintain the levels of 7 out of 8 targets established in the 2011 National Strategic Plan to Combat Chronic, Non-Communicable Diseases (DCNT): curbing obesity among adults is the only one that hasn&#8217;t been met, according to the <a href="https://www.saude.gov.br/vigilancia-em-saude/vigilancia-de-doencas-cronicas-nao-transmissiveis-dcnt/plano-de-acoes-estrategicas-para-o-enfrentamento-das-doencas-cronicas-nao-transmissiveis-dcnt">most recent data</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>More recently, in January 2020, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes suggested a new “<a href="https://valor.globo.com/brasil/noticia/2020/01/23/guedes-avalia-imposto-do-pecado-sobre-cigarros-bebidas-e-produtos-com-acar.ghtml">sin tax</a>,” establishing excise on cigarettes, alcohol, and sugary drinks and food products, with a view to curbing consumption and diminishing the prevalence of obesity-related diseases in Brazil. </p> <p>The idea was quickly dismissed by President Jair Bolsonaro.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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