My friend and colleague Larry Rohter was vilified in Brazil a few years back for writing two stories that offended Brazilians.
One suggested that Lula was drinking too much and that it was affecting his ability to govern. The second suggested that Brazilians were getting fatter – and featured photos of overweight women on Ipanema beach. (The women in the pictures turned out to be Czechs.)
I remember going to a carnival parade in Ipanema shortly after and getting a kick out of seeing one wag with a sign saying, “The New York Times Got It Wrong! – Lula is fat and the Girls from Ipanema drink too much.”
But Rohter was right on the second issue, as a new OECD study to be released on Thursday shows.
Figures show that 51 percent of adult Brazilians are overweight, above the OECD average.
“Unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are pushing obesity rates rapidly toward those seen in OECD countries, where half of the population is already overweight and one in six people is considered obese,” the report states.
“Seven in 10 Mexican adults are overweight or obese, while nearly half of all Brazilians, Russians and South Africans are also in this category. China and India report lower levels of obesity, but are also rapidly moving in the wrong direction,” the report adds.
Back then, a leading doctor told me that a quarter of hospital beds in Brazil are taken up by people suffering from weight-related ailments such as heart attacks, back surgeries and hip and joint replacements.
Although the numbers I quoted in these previous stories differ slightly from the OECD numbers the trend is clear. Brazilians, famous for the body beautiful, tiny bikinis, and lovers of plastic surgery, are getting fatter and thus falling into line with the rest of the world.
When Lula took power in 2003 he said his priority was making sure that every Brazilian would have the means to eat three square meals a day. He has to be admired for doing everything possible to keep that promise.
But today, the biggest issue is not making sure that Brazilians have enough to eat. It is making sure that Brazilians don’t eat too much.