Obesity is the nutritional disorder which has shown the greatest increase in prevalence, even in those countries in which deficiency diseases represent a severe public health problem. The goal of the present study was to analyse the anthropometric profile of a community living in the outskirts of Maceió, capital of Alagoas (northeastern Brazil), and to investigate the hypothesis of a coexistence of undernutrition and obesity in a very low-income population. The survey was conducted on 315 families (1247 individuals). Among the children (aged < or =10 years), the prevalence of wasting, stunting and wasting plus stunting was 3.8, 8.3 and 8.7 % respectively. Wasting (10.2 %) was the most prevalent form of undernutrition among adolescents; nonetheless, a higher frequency of stunting (11 %) and overweight-obesity (5.5 %) was seen specifically in girls, in agreement with trends found in other studies. Adults exhibited a high prevalence of overweight-obesity (25 %), but stunting was also present (22 %). Of the stunted individuals, 30 % were overweight-obese and 16.3 % were underweight. There were eighty-six families with at least one parent who was underweight (27 %) and 104 families with at least one parent who was overweight (33 %). Underweight and overweight-obesity were both present in ninety-six households (30 %). These results may indicate that better living conditions in urban areas in a population 'adapted' to chronic famine might increase the susceptibility to obesity. Considering the harm caused by the cumulative effect of these two conditions (undernutrition in childhood and obesity in adult life) there is a clear need for new studies to uncover the determinant factors so that preventive measures can be implemented.