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Vital Stories

Creating Powerful Anti-Obesity Messages in Brazil

The global obesity epidemic is something we hear a lot about these days, and rightfully so. In the span of just a few decades, it has become one of the most urgent public health problems of our time.

Much less do we hear about comprehensive strategies to address this problem. One global organization that is leading the way is Bloomberg Philanthropies who, after a successful pilot program in Mexico to implement a 10% tax on sugary drinks, is rolling out its Obesity Prevention Program in three additional countries.

Vital Strategies was a key partner to Bloomberg Philanthropies in Mexico, supporting our in-country partner El Poder del Consumidor to develop, implement and evaluate media campaigns in support of the tax. We are now fully engaged supporting the additional countries.

Mexico was a crucial starting point for this program. The country has the world’s highest rate of adult obesity, with one third of all adults obese. One-third of children and seventy percent of adults are overweight or obese. As a result, experts believe the current generation of Mexican children will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

The success of our work in Mexico has helped pave the way as we move forward.

Recently in São Paulo, Brazil, I travelled to São Paulo with our obesity team to conduct a mass media campaign workshop for our local partners. Just as in our tobacco and road safety workshops, we used the Vital Strategies Breakthrough model, giving participants a structured framework for campaign development and evaluation.

During our visit, our partner IDEC used the opportunity to launch a publication to highlight the historic Superior Court of Justice ruling on food advertising. This unanimous vote sets the precedent that food advertising directed at children, either directly or indirectly, is abusive.

The trip was also an opportunity to meet with our local partners and discuss progress and opportunities for Bloomberg’s four proven public health interventions: taxes on sugary drinks; marketing restrictions on junk food; clear front of pack labelling; and restrictions on availability of junk food in public institutions. Our partners seem deeply committed and engaged, and came to the table with a wealth of knowledge. It was clear to me that they were ready to get campaigns off the ground, and to help bring down Brazil’s obesity rate.

Our work in Brazil is just beginning. There are many challenges ahead of us, not least is a powerful industry, which seeks to protect its own interests at the expense of every Brazilian’s health and well-being. Brazil is a large and diverse country, which presents opportunities and challenges for mass communication. But with a population severely burdened by NCD’s, and obesity in particular, we have every reason to find a way to reach as many people as possible, and improve the quality of life for everyone.