New data shows more than 48 percent of Brazilians are overweight and 15.8 percent are obese.

In a study based on 2011 data that was released Tuesday by Brazil’s Health Ministry, the figures testify to a growing problem.

Since 2006, the number of overweight people has grown by 5.3 percent with the percentage of the population that is obese increasing by 4.4 percent as well.

The ministry surveyed 54,144 people in the capitals of Brazil's 27 states.

People are considered overweight who have a Body Mass Index higher than 25 and obese if they have a BMI above 30.

The proportion of overweight men increased from 47.2 percent in 2006 to 52.6 percent last year. The comparable figures among women were 38.5 percent and 44.7 percent, respectively.

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Excess weight increases with age too.

While the problem affects 29.4 percent of Brazilians between the ages of 18 and 24, the proportion reaches 63 percent in the 35-45 age group.

"There is a trend toward increased weight and obesity in the country. The time has come to turn the game around so we don't catch up with countries like the United States, where more than 20 percent of the population is obese," Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said in presenting the study.

The minister said that among the measures adopted by the government to tackle the problem was an accord signed with the food industry last year to reduce the content of salt and fat in its products.

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Padilha cited unhealthy eating habits as one of the factors causing excess weight gain.

Only 20.2 percent of Brazilians consume more than five portions of fruits and vegetables per day as the World Health Organization recommends.

On the more positive side, the proportion of sedentary males in Brazil fell from 16 percent in 2009 to 14.1 percent last year.

The study also showed that the percentage of smokers dropped from 34.8 percent in 1989 to 14.8 percent in 2011.

"The figures show that our ban on smoking in public spaces is contributing effectively to that decline," Padilha said. 

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