The present study demonstrates an increasing age-standardized prevalence of overweight and obesity in the Brazilian adult population and states from 1990 to 2017. The overall age-standardized prevalence of obesity in Brazil was higher in females than males in 2017, but males presented a higher increase than did females during the same period. The percent change was higher in the Northern and Northeastern states, which, for the most part, are less developed and lower income regions.
This increase has been observed in previous national surveys [8, 23,24,25,26] and among children and adolescents . Similar results were found when comparing countries of different income levels, where there was an increase in people’s excess of weight in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), while lower levels were observed in rich nations [3, 28]. This implies the persistence of malnutrition, but now in the form of overnutrition rather than undernutrition [3, 25].
Drivers of this phenomenon have been described in detail in previous studies, such as changes in the food environment, greater supply of high energy foods, marketing, urbanization, and the built environment, which have also cut down time and space for physical activities [2, 29,30,31]. Moreover, as a metabolic condition, high BMI is an intermediary risk factor in the causal model of NCDs, which is usually a consequence of other important risk factors, such as inadequate diet and physical inactivity, which have also proven to have reached levels in Brazil that are even higher than those of high BMIs [10, 32].
Therefore, high BMI exposure is increasing and driving up its attributable burden throughout Brazil, corroborating global findings for this specific risk factor [2, 13, 14, 17]. Our study shows that high BMI played an important role in the national burden (deaths and DALYs) of NCDs, especially those related to CVDs and diabetes mellitus.
Prior studies have shown a relationship between excess weight and mortality for all causes in the four continents . The present study has more specifically shown the burden of NCDs due to this condition, as well as estimates of DALYs due to excess weight. The present study results are similar to those found for the Eastern Mediterranean countries . Furthermore, more than 60% of overweight individuals live in LMICs, and, in these settings, the relationship of high BMI and morbidity has also been understudied .
The attributable fraction of NCD burden due to high BMI revealed no sex-specific pattern. Although death rates were more prominent among women, particularly for diabetes mellitus and neurological disorders, and DALYs were higher among men when considering CVD and neoplasms, uncertainty intervals overlapped. Nevertheless, it is important to note that NCDs have proven to be responsible for the greatest burden of death and disability among women, highlighting CVD, diabetes mellitus, dementia, depression, and musculoskeletal disorders . As such, the prevention of NCDs should be more advocated for women, as the healthcare agenda for women commonly gives priority to sexual and reproductive health issues. Our study results indicate that an important part of this burden is due to high BMIs. Moreover, a recent study has also shown a greater increase in obesity prevalence among Brazilian women of childbearing age , which are relatively young women. Moreover, a considerable number of premature deaths have been observed due to CVDs caused by high BMIs among men of young ages, which might contribute to higher DALY rates, as observed through the YLL component of this measurement.
Mechanisms underlying the consequences of obesity leading to NCDs have also been explained in previous reports, especially regarding CVD and DM [36,37,38]. High BMI mostly causes a chronic systemic inflammation and higher sympathetic activity, which can contribute to insulin resistance and hypertension, respectively , leading to endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis . Thus, its effect is primarily mediated through other intermediary risk factors, such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and hyperglycemia, the last two also known as metabolic risk factors . Recent evidence also highlights the relation between obesity and neurological disorders in the hippocampal structure and function . The present study observed a higher burden of neurological disorders due to high BMIs among individuals of 60 years old and older.
The overall burden due to high BMI increased from 1990 to 2017. When considering the decomposition of percent changes in all-cause DALYs and deaths related to this specific risk in the studied period, high BMI trends in attributable mortality and DALYS are driven by the interplay between population aging, an increase in risk exposure, and population growth. Moreover, change due to risk exposure is the leading contributor to growth in overweight and obesity burden in Brazil, followed by population aging, rather than the population growth, which had a lesser contribution. This understanding of drivers is crucial to subsidize public policies and interventions.
To the best of our knowledge, these are the first national and subnational estimates of these two metrics of the burden of NCDs attributable to high BMIs in Brazil. The increased in NCDs in Brazil is a great challenge, and to tackle it, its main risk factors, such as high BMI, must be addressed. The subnational approach is an important advance, as it allows for the evaluation of important disparities within the country and helps in the creation of local policies adjusted to the reality of each setting.
Thus, the present study advances this matter, and its findings are crucial for the development of an approach to public health, including the renewal of surveillance, management, and prevention policies in Brazil. Public policies, like the “Strategic Actions Plan for Coping with NCDs in Brazil, 2011-2022” , have been of great use in guiding surveillance at the national level of NDCs and their risk factors, such as high BMI, but further advances through interventions are required.
Since 2011, various polices have been established to address this problems in Brazil [39, 41, 42], but no major population success has yet been shown, corroborating a scenario found for other nations as well . Thus, despite of this great challenge, it represents an opportunity to tackle disease burdens, especially considering the fact that developed countries have made some progress in facing overweight .
Moreover, promoting healthier individual lifestyles, focused on diet and physical activity strategies and interventions, is necessary, especially in Northern and Northeastern states, but it is not enough. New approaches should consider measures that take into account the patient’s entire lifespan , such as intergenerational cycles and focus on childhood .
Healthcare providers should be more aware of simple measures in primary health care. Height and weight can be easily accessed, followed by a simple calculation of BMI, which could detect an important risk factor for greater health burdens, including death. On the other hand, weight loss could act directly in the reduction of incidences of many diseases, such as diabetes mellitus  and CVD .
This study has limitations, which should be considered. First, GBD used both self-reported and measured data with respect to height and weight. On the other hand, GBD methodology corrected the bias in self-reported data, using measured data for each age, sex, and geographic region, as previously described . High agreement between measured and self-reported anthropometric data was demonstrated, using several statistical methods across sex, age group, education level, and household location categories, which reinforces their use as proxies of measured values in the Brazilian population ≥ 18 years old . Moreover, GBD methodology and estimates have been used worldwide and approved as valid in several countries.
Estimates before 2000 should be more carefully considered, as national surveys monitoring this risk factor were less frequently applied. Furthermore, a possible impact of pre-existing diseases and other confounding factors, such as smoking and other lifestyle habits, cannot be excluded, which could not be evaluated, but are usually excluded from the observational studies, which are sources of relative risk estimation . Moreover, this limitation should be taken cautiously, as there is a well-established biological mechanism between adiposity tissue accumulation and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes .