In 2020, nearly 29 percent of Brazilians older than 20 were obese, up from roughly 15 percent in 2000, one of the largest increases of any country over that period, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Among the 10 most populous nations, only Mexico, the United States and Russia had higher obesity rates, ranging between 31 percent and 37 percent, according to the data.
Dr. Claudia Cozer Kalil, an endocrinologist at one of Brazil’s top hospitals in São Paulo, attributed the soaring obesity in part to rising wages that led to poor diets of fast food and processed foods. As obesity has increased, she said, so have related health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. She said that the government should do more to address the issue, including better food labeling. In Brazil, for instance, nutrition labels often don’t include sugar.
Still, she supported the laws. “The fact is, the population is heavier,” she said. “So we have to adapt to that.”
Brazil’s “gordofobia” debate revolves in part around the unrealistic image of the Brazilian body in the media inside and outside the country. The psychological impact of that image, activists said, can be illustrated by Brazilians’ efforts to pump up their lips, breasts, butts and muscles — and surgically suck out their fat — at a rate far higher than that of most other countries.
In 2019, Brazil led the world in plastic surgeries. In 2020, amid the pandemic, it had 6.1 plastic surgeries per 1,000 people, compared with 4.5 per 1,000 people in the United States, the world leader in total plastic surgeries that year, according to statistics from a global plastic-surgeon trade group. A risky surgery that involves transferring fat from the abdomen to the butt is even called the Brazilian butt lift.