Obese World Cup Soccer Fans Get Extra Wide Seating in Brazil

Brazil is famous for tiny bikinis and a national passion for all things sports and fitness. Perhaps that's why it's so shocking the country is faced with an obesity problem - one grown so large that the 2014 World Cup stadiums being built for this summer's Confederations Cup will include seating for fans with extra wide bottoms.

A statement posted on the Brazilian government's World Cup website reads in part, "From the total of 63,903 seats, 1,675 are reserved for obese people, or people with disabilities.

"This number corresponds to 2.4 percent of the stadium's capacity, which is more than the minimum requirement of 1 percent anticipated by the World Cup General Bill and administrative rule No 205 of the Ministry of Sport that regulates the issue. At the Castelão, 335 seats are reserved for wheel chair users, 1,220 for people with reduced mobility and 120 for obese people," the statement said.

Brazilian World Cup soccer stadiums are adding new seating to accommodate the obese. Credit: Gernot Hensel/EPA

According to the U.K. newspaper The Sun, the stadium seats will be double-wide and accommodate up to 560 pounds. In case the extra large dimensions aren't enough of a giveaway, the seats will also be identified by their bright blue color.

The price tag for all that extra room will bloated to twice the cost of regular-sized seating.

Despite its reputation as a country filled with svelte, toned and tanned citizens, the average Brazilian silhouette has ballooned in size. Forty-eight percent of Brazilian adult women and 50 percent of men are now considered overweight, according to a survey done by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE.)

One in seven Brazilian adults is classified as obese. That's a spike of nearly 10 percent since 2004 and more the double the obesity rate recorded just four decades ago.

As one of the largest producers of sugar in the world, part of the Brazil's weight problem stems from an insatiable appetite for sweets, especially in liquid form, said Barry Popkin, a W. R. Kenan Jr. distinguished professor in the school of public health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"More than 18 percent of their calories come from beverages, which is only slightly lower than the U.S.," he said. "Sugar in food is just an empty calorie, but when added to coffee, soda and other drinks, it adds calories but doesn't reduce consumption."

Popkin has written several papers based on Brazil's first-ever national diet survey, completed two years ago. Besides a thirst for sweetened beverages, he also noted that Brazilians snack more and eat more processed foods than ever before, and they watch more TV and exercise less than at any point in their history despite a government campaign to get them up and moving.

Health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health agencies have warned if the trend continued, Brazilian obesity rates could match those of the U.S. as soon as 2022.

Rising "Globesity" Rates

Even now, Americans haven't cornered the market on obesity. The U.S. only ranks eighth among the world's fattest nations.

The distinction for fattest country belongs to the tiny Caribbean island of Nauru where, according to WHO statistics, a whopping 95 percent of inhabitants have a "pre-obese" Body Mass Index of 25 or higher.

The average Nauruan's BMI is 34 - a label that puts Nauruans in WHO's "Class I" category of obesity. Class III, or super-obese, is the highest level of obesity and reserved for those with a BMI of 40 or higher. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.99 is considered healthy.

The U.S. does win the crown for the greatest rise in BMI of all developed nations between 1980 and the present.

With more than 70 percent of residents classified as overweight or obese, Mexico is the heaviest Latin American nation, Popkin's studies show. And despite diet books extolling the virtues of a French diet, Popkin found that Scandinavian countries have the lowest number of overweight people of all the high-income countries; just under ten percent of Scandinavians are classified as overweight. The title of thinnest nation in the low-income category belongs to Chad, where fewer than five percent of people are overweight.