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On December 12th, 2023, a significant development took place for children’s and adolescents' health in Brazil. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed a decree outlining a comprehensive framework for promoting healthy eating habits in school environments nationwide. This landmark decree underscores Brazil's global leadership in this area, representing a crucial step forward in the school environment regulations. It lays the foundation for future laws at all government levels in educational settings and explicitly outlines a national position to reduce the availability of ultra-processed products in schools, addressing their detrimental impact on young Brazilians.

Presidential Decree No. 11,821, announced during the 6th National Conference on Food and Nutritional Security, is a culmination of tireless efforts from a multitude of dedicated individuals and organizations. The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) is proud to partner with local civil society organizations that played a pivotal role in this journey. Led by the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense (Idec), a prominent Brazilian consumer advocacy group, local partners fostered open dialogue to raise public awareness and engage with government officials, lawmakers and experts, leading this steadfast commitment to tangible results. They launched guideline documents supported by strong evidence, a model bill and a communication campaign, aiming to stimulate public policy debates on healthy school nutrition and raise awareness about the topic. GHAI provided support to our partners throughout the campaign, offering feedback on materials, model bills and communications pieces, as well as strategic and advocacy support. Years of meticulous research, unwavering advocacy and collaborative efforts paved the way for this landmark achievement.

The specific implications of the decree hold immense promise for the future of children's health in Brazil, outlining fundamental principles and objectives to shape forthcoming policies and encouraging the development of local regulations on the subject. Key aspects of the decree include the incorporation of the Nova classification system, emphasizing that ultra-processed products are not recommended, a human rights-based approach and strategic pillars guiding future legislation, expressing a commitment to shielding individuals within school settings from exposure to ultra-processed products. It establishes three core pillars for building a healthier school environment:

  • Prioritizing Food and Nutrition Education: The decree mandates the integration of food and nutrition education into school curriculums, empowering students and the entire school community to make informed choices about their dietary habits. This goes beyond rote memorization; it's about cultivating a culture of mindful eating and fostering an understanding of the interconnectedness of food, our bodies and the environment.
  • Restricting Ultra-Processed Products: The decree significantly limits the sale and donation of ultra-processed foods and beverages within school premises. This translates to replacing sugary drinks with water or natural fruit juices, opting for fresh fruits and vegetables over chips and processed snacks and prioritizing homemade treats over commercially produced sweets. Most importantly, the decree prioritizes children's health and well-being above the profit margins of the food and beverage industry.
  • Safeguarding Young Minds from Unhealthy Marketing: The decree restricts the marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products in the vicinity of schools. This means no more flashy advertisements bombarding students with enticing visuals of sugary cereals and carbonated drinks. It creates a protective space for children, shielding them from the manipulative tactics employed by the food industry.

While cause for cautious optimism, it's important to acknowledge that significant work remains. The decree does not have regulatory power but has the strength of establishing clear principles that will guide local regulations and has the power to positively impact pending bills in Congress and at the local level. It empowers local and state governments to build upon these principles, enacting specific laws and regulations tailored to their unique contexts. The journey towards a future where healthy food is the norm, not the exception, continues. The global community of advocates must remain steadfast in their commitment, walking hand-in-hand, step by step, towards a future where schools reflect a commitment to nourishing young minds and bodies.

GHAI celebrates this victory alongside Brazilian partner organizations and all the passionate advocates who made it possible. This triumph is a testament to the power of collaborative action, unwavering dedication and belief in the potential for positive change. Together, we can make healthy schools a reality, one nutritious bite at a time.

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