British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Obesity and undernutrition in a very-low-income population in the city of Maceió, northeastern Brazil

Telma Maria de Menezes Toledo Florêncioa1 c1, Haroldo da Silva Ferreiraa2, Anna Patrícia Tojal de Françaa3, Jairo Calado Cavalcantea4 and Ana Lydia Sawayaa5

a1 Departamento de Nutrição, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Rua Hélio Pradines, 225/301 Ponta Verde, 57.035-220 Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil

a2 Departamento de Nutrição, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Rua Sem. Teotônio Vilela 75, B1/001 Poço, 57.030-640 Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil

a3 Departamento de Nutrição, Universidade Federal de Alagoas, Rua Rodolfo de Abreu 313, B5/502 Cruz das Almas, 57.038-160 Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil

a4 Fundação Nacional de Saúde – MS, Rua Alameda Acre 368, Farol, 57.000-000 Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil

a5 Departamento de Fisiologia, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Rua Botucatu 862, 2○ andar, Ed. Ciências Biomédicas, 04.023-062 São Paulo, SP, Brazil


Obesity is the nutritional disorder which has shown the greatest increase in prevalence, even in those countries in which deficiency diseases represent a severe public health problem. The goal of the present study was to analyse the anthropometric profile of a community living in the outskirts of Maceió, capital of Alagoas (northeastern Brazil), and to investigate the hypothesis of a coexistence of undernutrition and obesity in a very low-income population. The survey was conducted on 315 families (1247 individuals). Among the children (aged ≤10 years), the prevalence of wasting, stunting and wasting plus stunting was 3·8, 8·3 and 8·7 % respectively. Wasting (10·2 %) was the most prevalent form of undernutrition among adolescents; nonetheless, a higher frequency of stunting (11 %) and overweight–obesity (5·5 %) was seen specifically in girls, in agreement with trends found in other studies. Adults exhibited a high prevalence of overweight–obesity (25 %), but stunting was also present (22 %). Of the stunted individuals, 30 % were overweight–obese and 16·3 % were underweight. There were eighty-six families with at least one parent who was underweight (27 %) and 104 families with at least one parent who was overweight (33 %). Underweight and overweight–obesity were both present in ninety-six households (30 %). These results may indicate that better living conditions in urban areas in a population ‘adapted’ to chronic famine might increase the susceptibility to obesity. Considering the harm caused by the cumulative effect of these two conditions (undernutrition in childhood and obesity in adult life) there is a clear need for new studies to uncover the determinant factors so that preventive measures can be implemented.

(Received August 01 2001)

(Revised February 16 2001)

(Accepted March 19 2001)


c1 *Corresponding author: Telma Maria de Menezes Toledo Flor$$$ncio, fax +55 82 327 8123, email