To investigate the prevalence of obesity and malnutrition in the poor Brazilian population we conducted a survey on the socioeconomic and nutritional status of 535 families (comprising 2 411 individuals) living in shanty towns in the city of São Paulo. There was a 30% prevalence of malnutrition in the children, with chronic malnutrition as the most predominant problem. The prevalence of obesity was 6.4% in boys and 8.7% in girls. Overweight and obesity associated with stunting was found in 5.8% of boys and 6.8% girls. Adolescents showed a higher prevalence of malnutrition when weight-for-age distribution was used (boys 46.4%, girls 40.2%), but a right deviation in the distribution was observed with an increase in obesity and a decrease of malnutrition was observed (obesity was 21% in girls and 8.8% in boys; malnutrition was 15.5% in boys and 12.6% in girls) when the weight-for-height adjustment was made. Stunting was the most predominant type of malnutrition in both sexes. Obesity associated with stunting was more common than obesity without stunting, both in younger children and adolescents. Adults had a higher prevalence of obesity than malnutrition according to both the Metropolitan Life Insurance tables (1.7% of undernutrition, 16.7% of overweight, and 14.1% of obesity) and Body Mass Index (8.5% of undernutrition, 21.9% of overweight, and 14.6% of obesity). There was an increase in the percentage of obese children when at least one adult in the family was obese and an increased percentage of malnourished children when undernourished adults were present in the family. Obesity among the adults of the family decreased the occurrence of malnutrition among the children. In 9% of families there was a coexistence of obesity in the adults and malnutrition in the children. These results demonstrate a coexistence of malnutrition and obesity in poor urban Brazilian communities.