The nutritional status of the world on alert – 03/24/2024 – Marcia Castro

The nutritional status of the world on alert – 03/24/2024 – Marcia Castro


The world seems to be “turned upside down”. A pandemic, the current dengue epidemic with numbers never seen before, temperature records and extreme events in all regions of the planet, wars, humanitarian crises and environmental destruction.

While all this was happening (and happening) there is a silent pandemic underway: the rapid increase in obesity in the world population (including in rich countries), occurring in parallel with underweight. Silent because it has not received due attention and, therefore, has not yet been the target of urgent public policies to prevent a public health crisis. Data recently released by the NCD-RisC network of researchers, which studies risk factors for non-communicable diseases, show that the percentage of the population of adults aged 20 and over who were obese increased from 6.8% in 1990 to 12.3% in 2022. In other words, more than 984 million adults in the world were obese in 2022 (out of every 100 individuals, 12 were obese).

Among children and adolescents (19 years of age or younger), the prevalence of obesity also increased between 1990 and 2022. Around 65 million girls and 94 million boys were obese in 2022. Underweight has reduced in most countries, both for adults as well as children and teenagers.

In Brazil, data from the Risk and Protection Factor Surveillance System for Chronic Diseases by Telephone Survey (Vigitel), from the Ministry of Health, has already shown this trend of increasing obesity and overweight since 2006 (when Vigitel was launched).

Conducted in all capitals and the Federal District, Vigitel shows that almost a quarter of the Brazilian population was obese in 2023, double that observed in 2006. The overweight population increased from 43% in 2006 to 61% in 2023. Among adults aged 45 to 54, overweight reaches almost 71%, while 37% of young people aged 18 to 24 are already overweight.

Among children and adolescents (age group not covered by Vigitel), data from the NCD-RisC show that, in Brazil, around 3% of boys and girls were obese in 1990. In 2022, 17% of boys and 14% of girls were obese. obese, while around 3% of children and adolescents were underweight.

It is important to highlight that, although the NCD-RisC report estimates that there has been a reduction in the underweight population, around 43% of the Brazilian population faced some type of food insecurity between 2020 and 2022.

A sedentary lifestyle, low frequency and duration of breastfeeding, consumption of ultra-processed foods and social inequalities are some of the factors that contribute to the increasing trend in obesity.

Actions to combat obesity cannot just be targeted at individual behavior. There is no point encouraging physical activity without ensuring public safety, nor promoting a healthy diet if it is not accessible to the most vulnerable.

Without immediate public policies, the scenario is worrying. An increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, problems related to hypercholesterolemia and hypertension, respiratory problems, reduced mobility and joint sensitivity, decreased productivity and mental disorders, among others, is expected. Ultimately, a drop in quality of life and human capital.

These problems develop progressively, hence the immediate need for public policies to prevent the worst. Without them, who will pay the future bill for the consequences of obesity? The SUS? The private system? The families?

In 1946, Josué de Castro wrote “Geography of Hunger”. Today, the title would be the geography of precarious nutritional status. That this book doesn’t need to be written.

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