Safety’s Impact on Physical Activity in Brazil

Yaphet Getachew and Jennifer Mandelbaum, 2015 GHLI Fellows

We often hear parents complain that their kids spend too much time on the internet or they are too lazy to play outside. But, in Brazil, it’s not lack of desire among kids to be active, there is a far more serious reason why physical activity is a challenge — safety.

As part of our GHLI fellowship this summer, we spend time in Brazil observing the Agita São Paulo program — designed to prevent childhood obesity through physical activity. During our first week in Brazil, we visited the island of Ilhabela to learn about efforts in both elementary and middle schools to help kids be more active.

We met with representatives from the Secretary of Education and learned about the very real barriers to physical activity facing children on the island. For example, even though they’re surrounded by water, the majority of children and their parents on the island do not know how to swim. Parents worry about violent crime, causing them to keep their children indoors most hours that they are not in school. And, so the only real safe space students have to exercise is within the schools. This leads many children to spend their free time playing video games or watching television and being sedentary instead of playing sports outside with their peers. Students are typically only in school for half of the day, leaving many hours of unscheduled time, which is why the development of active after-school programs is crucial.

Given these barriers to physical activity, Ilhabela has made strides to provide outlets for physical activity in schools. For instance, the schools we visited had recently built an athletic facility, which included a basketball court and a pool. Our visit to the schools gave us a much clearer picture of the physical activity environment theses kids can access and helped us develop recommendations for Agita’s future programs. Maybe more importantly, we observed how a community bands together to tackle a major problem for its children.