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Opinion: Nourishing youth leadership in the school

Experts' corner - 12.08.2021

Opinion Article by Najla Veloso, coordinator of the project Consolidation of School Feeding Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

12 August 2021, Brasilia - There are about 1.8 billion young people living in the world today, of which 165 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Youth are a considerable part of the population, especially recognizing their potential to be agents of change.

The International Youth Day, celebrated on August 12, makes us reflect on the opportunities and food consumption patterns that we are providing to young people, as well as thinking about the direction we as a society are heading.

In this scenario, the school is a very important space to guarantee the human right to adequate food. This implies considering a wide range of elements, such as the respect for the local food culture, dietary diversity, seasonality, nutritional adequacy, food safety, and the age, gender and the health conditions of the students.

It has been proved that school feeding programmes promote healthy eating not only among students, but also their families. For example, eating more fruits and vegetables, and less highly processed foods.

Moreover, if these programs are linked to a strong strategy of food and nutrition education in schools, they can also affect other areas such as health. School feeding policies, among many other benefits, promote gender equality. In several countries, meals attract girls to schools, reducing child marriage and unintended pregnancy. On the other hand, local food procurement fosters the economy of rural areas and encourage young people to stay there, improving the wellbeing of this part of the population.

This holistic vision is key to transform the relationships between humans and food systems, especially in the face of current health, environmental and socio-economic challenges. Thus, school feeding programs become an important social protection tool.

Likewise, they directly affect the development of physical, cognitive, psychosocial and life conditions of teenagers and children.  School feeding programs let them better reflect and face challenges such as obesity, hunger, poverty, inequality and climate change. They are also a way to boost empowerment, raising their awareness on human rights, strengthening their autonomy and guaranteeing their agency so that they can participate in shaping food systems.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 85 million students benefit from school feeding policies. The experience of the Brazil-FAO Cooperation, which has promoted these programmes for more than decade, has shown that there is a virtuous circle between the quality of education, food and nutritional security, health and social development.

School feeding is a political tool that can encourage young people´s leadership, so that they change the course of history and positively impact the present and future generations. Achieving this will be a success for everyone, including the States and communities themselves, which will get us back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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