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Addressing Food Insecurity in Children: Lessons from Brazil

Addressing Food Insecurity in Children: Lessons from Brazil
This has been a year of exploration and innovation for the NRC, and on Tuesday October 21, we experienced another first! For the first time, the NRC webcasted a presentation that was given live at Ryerson University’s School of Nutrition! During the session, Dr. Cecilia Rocha, Director of the School of Nutrition at Ryerson University, spoke about Brazil's experience for improving food security and the health of children in the Country.

Brazil has received international recognition for its ground-breaking and progressive FOME ZERO (i.e. “Zero Hunger”) strategy for food security. Using an innovative, multi-sectoral, cross-Ministry approach addressing income and social inequality, food access, and a national school feeding program, the this strategy has proven to be highly effective in rapidly reducing food insecurity, poverty, children malnutrition, and infant mortality across the nation.

Dr. Rocha briefly highlighted the components of FOME ZERO that have been responsible for improving food and nutrition security in the country. First, there is the Bolsa Família, a conditional Family Grant that is estimated to be responsible for a 19% reduction in poverty severity in Brazil. The country also has a School Meals Programme - a Ministry of Education program that provides funds to provide school meals to children in day-care centres, pre-school and primary school in the public school system – and programs that work to strengthen family agriculture.

Some of the other critical success factors that Dr. Rocha mentioned in her talk were the institutionalisation of the right to food as the responsibility of the state, the development of a participatory model of governance through the work of social councils, and the consolidation of a systemic view of the hunger and food insecurity.

Dr. Rocha noted that Brazil's new dietary guidelines have also received praise for their sensible, food-based approach to addressing nutrient deficiency and preventing the health consequences of excess weight. These guidelines are not focused solely on avoiding obesity; they were created with the following principals in mind:
  1. Health is more than the absence of illness
  2. Healthy eating is more than the ingestion of nutrients
  3. Healthy eating is derived from sustainable food systems
  4. Information enlightens consumers and empowers citizens
  5. Healthy eating guidelines are based on evidence
  6. Healthy eating guidelines promote food and nutrition security.
As Marion Nestle wrote in a Food Politics blog post, “the guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices”. After wrapping up her talk, Dr. Rocha took questions from the in-person and online participants. When asked how she feels about the sustainability of the strategy, she responded that the focus on partnership between government and civil society, the fact that no candidates in the upcoming Presidential election oppose the system, and the fact that most programs provide substantial benefits at a relatively low cost (the Bolsa Familia program represents less than 3% of Brazil’s GDP, for example) have set the FOME ZERO strategy up for ongoing success.

The NRC would like to sincerely thank Dr. Rocha for an excellent presentation. If you’d like to download a copy of her presentation (the last slide includes references for further reading!) or hear a recording of the webinar, please visit this page. Let us know what you think, and stay tuned for our upcoming Grand Rounds webinars!

Barb Prud'homme
Knowledge Management Coordinator, NRC

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