The policies adopted by the Brazilian government to combat hunger and malnutrition were one of the highlights of the 32nd Session of the United Nations (UN) Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN), which happened in BrasÀlia, last week.
At the Committee’s request, Brazil and three other countries (Bolivia, Angola, and Mozambique) made broad surveys of the policies and programs addressing this issue.
The national case studies are intended to serve as examples and starting points for the discussions at the meeting.
“Brazil still needs to make further progress, but it is possible to make use of what has already been accomplished,” commented the president of the SCN, Catherine Bertini.
The Brazilian study, conducted by the Ministry of Health, singles out the Zero Hunger program as the government’s priority line of action in the campaign to eliminate hunger and social exclusion.
The report notes the existence of an institutional structure designed to provide food and nutritional security, but it warns of the lack of specific legislation and a distinct budget for these activities.
Social participation is analyzed as well, and the recommendation is for it to be strengthened.
The study emphasizes a progressive reduction in the number of undernourished children in Brazil.
In 1989, 15.7% of children under 5 were shorter than the minimum height appropriate for their age. By 1996 this index had fallen to 10.5%.
According to the study, Brazilian families who earn less than a minimum wage (US$ 94 per month) don’t attain the minimum food intake, 1,900 calories, recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
According to 1996 data, around 77 million people fall into this category.
Of the total of 95.5 million Brazilians 20 or older (according to the 2002-2003 Study of Family Budgets), 4% are underweight.
The problem of malnutrition persists in some regions of the country, especially in the Northeast. Young women are the most affected. 12.2% of women between 20 and 24 are underweight.
Increasing obesity has also become a matter of concern in the country. 40.6% of the Brazilian population 20 or older is overweight. This amounts to 38.8 million people.
10.5 million of them are considered obese. The problem is a recent one and mainly affects adult males. In 1974 obesity was practically nonexistent among the male population. In 2003, 8.8% of men were obese.
Translation: David Silberstein